Spanish Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez resigns

Party deposed secretary general over refusal to allow Mariano Rajoy to form government

A caretaker executive has taken control of the Spanish Socialist Party, as it struggles to unite following a split which has led to the resignation of its leader, Pedro Sánchez.

Mr Sánchez stepped down on Saturday night after losing a vote by the party’s federal committee on his proposal to stage a snap leadership primary, followed by a national party convention.

After a week of open civil war in the party, Saturday’s vote in the Socialist headquarters in Madrid was expected to be key for the leader. The result – 132 votes against his proposal, 107 in favour – made Mr Sánchez’s position untenable but it also reflected the scale of the party’s division.

“I call on all true Socialists to be proud of being part of the Socialist Party, today more than ever,” Mr Sánchez (44), who became leader in the summer of 2014, said in his resignation speech. “That is how I say goodbye, sure of the fact that it has been an honour to be secretary general of the Socialist Party.”


Pressure had started to build on Mr Sánchez following disappointing results in December and June's inconclusive general elections. When the party performed poorly again in regional elections in Galicia and the Basque country last weekend, he sought to wrong-foot his critics by calling the primary for later this month.

All-out war

However, the resignation mid-week of half the Socialist executive in protest at his leadership unleashed an all-out conflict in the party.

Many in the party have also been unhappy at Mr Sánchez's insistence on refusing to ease the investiture of conservative Mariano Rajoy as prime minister, in order to end a nine-month political impasse. Mr Sánchez had instead insisted on trying to form a leftist alternative government, although that had looked increasingly unlikely.

A 10-strong caretaker executive headed by Javier Fernández, premier of the Asturias region, is now leading the party, until it chooses a new leader.

Susana Díaz, the premier of Andalusia who has long been seen as a rival to Mr Sánchez, is a favourite to fill the post.

Mrs Díaz had been at the centre of Saturday’s tense and often unruly federal committee meeting, which took place as demonstrators from both sides clashed outside the party headquarters.


“I appeal to you to think of the spectacle – not just national, but international, spectacle – that we are making of ourselves,” she told her colleagues at one point.

The deadline for a new government to be formed looms at the end of October, when a third election in 12 months could be called if the political stalemate does not end. The Socialists’ caretaker executive must now decide whether to support Mr Rajoy in a new bid to form an administration – and risk angering traditional party supporters – or sit tight and compete in the new election.

Ximo Puig, the Socialist premier of the Valencia region and an outspoken Sánchez critic, said that “two [general elections] are enough and if that’s not the case, then probably all the parties should think about whether we should change candidate”.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain