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Pedro Sanchez stays on as Spain's prime minister after weighing exit

Published 29/04/2024, 08:56
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks to the media on the day of his meeting with Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Simon Harris to discuss recognising the Palestinian state, in Dublin, Ireland, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyn

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday he had decided to stay in office after days of publicly weighing his future, generating relief amongst leftist allies, exasperation among the public and ridicule from his opponents.

Shouting could be heard on Madrid streets when Sanchez made his announcement in a televised address, bringing an abrupt close to a five-day drama since he said last week that he was retreating from public duty to decide whether to quit.

"I have decided to go on, if possible even stronger as prime minister. This is not business as usual, things are going to be different," he said.

Sanchez, 52, had announced last Wednesday that he might quit in response to a corruption investigation into his wife, which he said was baseless and orchestrated by his right-wing political opponents.

Adding to the melodrama, he began Monday morning by meeting King Felipe VI - a step that would have been necessary should he have decided to resign.

In his subsequent address he said he had informed the monarch of his decision to stay, after having been encouraged by widespread expressions of support over the weekend.

The furore over his future had caused turmoil in Spanish politics, where a fractious parliament has struggled to form coalition governments after close elections. Should a resignation have forced a new election, it would have been the fourth in five years.

The decision to stay generated intense relief among Sanchez's followers, but the episode drew fierce mockery from opponents.

"Thank you for your bravery, your determination and also thank you for your humanity, prime minister," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Jesus Montero wrote on X.

Opposition People's Party (PP) leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo described Sanchez's five-day pause for reflection as a "piece of theatre". Madrid's regional president Isabel Ayuso, also of the PP, dismissed Sanchez's speech as a "joke".

"From now on we will be much stronger as a counterweight to this government that does not know its limits," Ayuso said.

Gabriel Rufian, a lawmaker for the Catalan separatist party Esquerra Republicana said the five-day melodrama could come across as "an act of frivolity".

It would have been "a bad example if he left because it was not a resignation, it was a surrender. And an even worse example if he stays without doing anything," Rufian wrote on X.

VACILLATION

Sanchez's vacillation may yet hurt him, but the impact may be limited because Spain's political landscape is already so polarised, said Ignacio Jurado, political science professor at Madrid's Carlos III University.

"His credibility is hotly contested and voters have already given it to him or taken it away," he said. "As a leader he has shown a weakness and it's something that the opposition will exploit a lot."

The first measure of how the incident has affected Sanchez’s standing will come with regional elections in Catalonia on May 12 in which his Socialist party is projected to win the most seats as they attempt to wrest control from separatist parties.

On Madrid's streets, passersby were irritated by the drama, even if they were happy Sanchez was remaining.

"I'm glad he's continuing, the country doesn't need new elections or a change of government now," Eva Aladro, 60, a university professor, said. "I don't really understand why it all happened but it's good that he'll carry on."

Sanchez said he and his wife Begona Gomez were braced for further attacks but that he had decided to continue regardless. He said his personal situation had wider implications and argued that women should be allowed to pursue their own careers, and victims should not be forced to defend their innocence.

"We have endured this for 10 years. We can deal with it,” he said.

A city court said last week it was looking into the accusations of influence peddling and business corruption against Sanchez's wife, brought in a private complaint by Manos Limpias, or Clean Hands, an anti-corruption activist group.

© Reuters. Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gives a statement to annonunce he will stay on as Prime Minister after weighing his exit from the Spanish government, at Moncloa palace in Madrid, Spain April 29, 2024. Borja Puig de la Bellacasa/Pool via REUTERS

On Thursday, Madrid's prosecuting authority said it was appealing to have the case thrown out for lack of evidence.

Manos Limpias director Miguel Bernad, who has stood as a candidate for a far-right party in European elections, told reporters he would be providing further evidence to support the complaint.

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