The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE by its Spanish acronym) is enjoying renewed strength. In the last national elections, back in 2016, the party (led by the same Pedro Sánchez) got less than 23% of the votes, its lowest percentage yet, netting it just 85 deputies out of 350. Until last spring, it did not look like its support was likely to grow over time—in spite of the disastrous rule by the PP, the corruption scandals, the Catalan crisis, and so many other factors that should have been working in its favor.
But the unexpected fall of the government in June with the passing of the no-confidence motion has led to the party rising to the forefront of the political scene once again. Up until then, its policies had been inconsistent, with Sánchez under the heel of the powerful party higher-ups, almost all of whom were very hostile towards Podemos and its allies.
The bandwagon effect, however, is not something unique to Italian politics: after Sánchez became prime minister, even the most recalcitrant of the party higher-ups (who were perhaps hoping to mount another challenge against him) had to adapt to the new reality: some of them lined up behind him, while others took a step back.
In his nine months in office, Sánchez has charted a clear policy course. Two-thirds of his ministers are women, a world record. And through this feminist government, he has committed to social measures including increasing the minimum wage to €900 before tax, with two extra months as bonuses per year, and paternity leave that will have the same conditions as maternity leave. Both of those measures were adopted by government decree.
Sánchez has also worked to make the government more friendly toward science, scientific research and culture, working to eliminate the Francoist legacy, and fighting for human rights (even though the rescue vessel belonging to Open Arms is still blocked in the port of Barcelona).
His government is at least talking about pursuing a dialogue on the Catalan issue (with some steps forward, albeit small, compared to the previous showdown), and is saying that they intend to repeal the worst of the laws of the previous PP government (although this hasn’t progressed past the level of talk for now).
For his part, Sánchez has something to show beside mere promises, which makes him a more credible candidate before the voters. In Spain, the number one concern right now is not the European elections, but rather the national elections on April 28, which will dictate whether Sánchez will return to lead the new government (inevitably with the support of Podemos and its allies), or whether Trifachito, the new right-wing alliance of the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, will oust him from power.
According to the polls (to be taken with the usual grain of salt), the PSOE should get the most votes, but with less than 28% (winning around 115 seats), 7-8 points above the PP, which is set to have its lowest result yet, at around 20% (85 seats).
Their short stint in government will certainly be beneficial for the PSOE, and Sánchez has shown a lot of skill in taking advantage of this opportunity. The question is whether theirs will end up being a Pyrrhic victory (which will depend on how low Podemos will go).
However, there is one lesson that Sánchez has certainly learned: now that he is the undisputed head of the party, he has made sure to keep a close eye on the party’s lists in all the provinces. There will be no more of the grumbling backbench deputies who have been making his life so difficult in Parliament: those who will be elected this time will be loyal to him.
There are some exceptions, such as Susana Díaz, the powerful former president of Andalusia, who has been trying to place candidates loyal to her on the list. The contest in Andalusia (which usually gives the Socialists most of their votes) will be one of the most closely watched on April 28. For Díaz, this will be the opportunity for a rematch (after the clamorous defeat in December in the regional elections). She has to net more votes for the party if she wants to keep her position, but a good result here will also make Sánchez stronger—a result of deft maneuvering by the Socialist party leader.
The European elections are still far away, beyond the horizon. It is already well known that Sánchez is sending the current Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell—the Catalan who is the most hated by the separatists, as well as a former President of the European Parliament—to Brussels, at the head of the party’s list. But other than that, the picture is not yet clear.
The Spanish Socialists are hoping that they will at least match the result they got five years ago, when they got 23% of the vote, with 14 seats in the European Parliament out of Spain’s 54—which, however, would be increased to 59 if the UK ends up exiting the EU. Back then, the PP got 26% (16 seats). On that occasion, Izquierda Unida ran alone (10%, 6 seats, currently in the GUE/NGL group) and Podemos made its first showing (8%, 5 seats, also in the GUE/NGL). After those elections, the right won a total of 25 seats, while the left got 29—keeping in mind that in Spain, the European elections are a nationwide popular vote, with seats allotted by proportional representation.