Multiple challenges for newly appointed Spanish PM

Monday, 2018-06-04 17:41:25
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Pedro Sanchez is sworn in as Spain’s Prime Minister, witnessed by King Felipe VI (centre) and and former PM Mariano Rajoy (right). (Photo: EPA)
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NDO – The air has temporarily been cleared in Spanish politics as socialist Pedro Sanchez was sworn in on June 2 as the country’s seventh head of government. Accordingly, the power vacuum in Spain was quickly filled just one day after the Spanish parliament’s dismissal of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. However, Spanish politics still faces multiple challenges as it will be not easy for Sanchez to set up a new cabinet, and this could adversely affect Spain’s economic situation.

The storm in Spanish politics emerged as the opposition Socialist Party filed a no-confidence motion against PM Rajoy after the ruling People’s Party (PP) was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds. Previously, the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) declared that it had exposed a bribe line involving former PP officials during the 1999-2005 period. The governing PP was said to have benefited from illegal funds obtained from the aforementioned line and the court had asked the PP to refund EUR245,000.

The incident has dealt a fatal blow to the personal reputation of PM Rajoy as well as that of the PP, leading the party’s popularity rating to plunge from 33% to 24%, according to a survey conducted last month. Faced with that situation, the Spanish parliament had to hold a no-confidence vote against Rajoy on June 1. Accordingly, a total of 180 members of parliament (MPs) voted in favour of the motion, 169 voted against, and one abstained. With this result, Rajoy officially fell and became the first Spanish cabinet leader to lose a no-confidence vote since the country turned to democracy.

Immediately after the no-confidence vote, the Spanish parliament appointed Pedro Sanchez as the new PM to avoid a power vacuum. However, the mid-way replacement has yet to guarantee a stable future for Spanish politics. A series of challenges are awaiting Sanchez and his partners in the new cabinet. Last weekend, Sanchez was sworn in, but according to Spanish regulations, he will only be given the full rights of the PM after his cabinet is announced in the official government gazette. As scheduled, Sanchez will get down to selecting cabinet members next week, it is not at all simple to form a new government capable of maintaining harmony in terms of domestic and foreign affairs at the moment.

Mariano Rajoy becomes the first Spanish cabinet leader to lose a no-confidence vote since the country turned to democracy.

Analysts said that Sanchez also faces a series of challenges as he takes over the hot seat left by former PM Rajoy, because his Socialist Party only holds 84 seats out of the total 350 seats in the parliament. It will be very difficult for the new PM to persuade Congress to adopt his new policies as the ruling party only takes up such a small proportion in the national legislature.

In addition, as the Spanish economy is recovering amid the existing difficulties, such as the unemployment rate of about 15%, the continued reform and promotion of economic achievements attained by the preceding government will also be a thorny problem for newly appointed Sanchez. Many analysts stated that he would not easily overcome the shadow of former PM Rajoy in the field of economic recovery and development. During the rule of Rajoy, the Spanish economy recovered quite rapidly with a growth rate of about 3%, regardless of the negative impacts of the prolonged political crisis in Catalonia. In his speech delivered on the occasion of Spain’s Sanchez appointment, Steffen Seibert, spokesman of the German government, did not forget to give praise to the former PM Rajoy for his efforts to revive the Spanish economy after the country suffered heavily in the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the public debt crisis.

Another challenge for Sanchez’s new government is the crisis in Catalonia, where there is still risk of political upheaval despite the provisional calm at present. On June 2, members of the Executive Council of Catalonia, led by Quim Torra, chose to take oaths. Although the 13 members of the new Catalonia government do not include the officials of the former government under detention or living in exile, a part of the people in this region still want national independence separate from Spain.

Although Spanish politics has temporarily overcome the serious political crisis, with the aforementioned difficulties and challenges, there still remain hidden uncertainties that can return at any time. This is what both Spain and the European Union (EU) do not expect, because over recent times, Spanish politics in particular and that of the EU as a whole have had too many problems to resolve.