Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez is set to take over as head of government after toppling long-time rival Mariano Rajoy in parliament. The 46-year-old Sanchez has pledged to open talks with the Catalan separatists.
The leader of the socialist PSOE party, Pedro Sanchez, became the designated prime minister of Spain after the government of Mariano Rajoy was ousted in a vote of no confidence.
Sanchez had filed the motion following a corruption scandal involving Rajoy's center-right People's Party (PP).
It likely spells a new era for the EU's fourth-largest economy, which had been ruled by Rajoy's conservatives since 2011.
During his time in opposition, Sanchez — a former economics professor — harshly opposed spending cuts imposed by the conservatives and pledged to extend welfare rights.
New approach on Catalonia: Sanchez promised to open talks with the Catalan government in the independence dispute which saw Madrid launch a violent crackdown and separatist leader Carles Puigdemont flee the country. Additionally, Sanchez urged constitutional reform to set up a federalist system that would keep Catalonia in Spain.
However, the socialist leader also appeared with Rajoy on television in May, confirming the state's right to intervene if Puigdemont's successor Quim Torra violated the constitution. In May 2018, he slammed Torra as the "Le Pen of Spanish politics," referring to far-right French leader Marine Le Pen.
Sticking with the EU: Despite criticizing austerity, Sanchez has expressed no skepticism toward the EU's monetary union or Spain's EU membership. He has also pledged to abide by a national budget recently negotiated by Rajoy, assuaging fears of economic instability in the EU.
Rivalry with Rajoy: Sanchez first became PSOE chief in 2014 but was ousted by a rebellion within his own party ranks in 2016 for refusing to allow Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) to form a government. At the time, Sanchez said the PP was too corrupt to run the country. He regained the leadership of the 140-year-old PSOE in May 2017. In the wake of the corruption scandal, he called on Rajoy to resign and avoid being the first Spanish prime minister to lose a no-confidence vote.
"Your time is up," Sanchez said. "You are part of the past, of a chapter the country is about to close." Rajoy hit back by saying Sanchez was trying to piece together a "Frankenstein" government from various political fractions and reminded lawmakers that the Socialists had lost two general elections under Sanchez.
Academic and politician: Sanchez first joined the PSOE in 1993 and worked as a political adviser in the European Parliament and at the UN during the Kosovo war. He became a councilor on the Madrid City Council in 2004, then a member of the Spanish Congress of Deputies for Madrid in 2009. Voted out in 2011, he finished his economics doctorate before returning to Congress in 2013.
dj, jm/rt (Reuters, AFP)