PEDRO Sanchez made history in more than one way last week, after becoming the first Spanish politician to unseat a prime minister through a no-confidence vote, and then take on the role himself.
When sworn in as prime minister, the PSOE leader, a known atheist, made another first in Spain’s modern history by taking an oath to protect the constitution without a bible or crucifix.
Known to many as ‘el guapo’, the Socialist leader from Madrid, is something of a politics comeback kid.
Just three years ago the idea of the now 46-year-old becoming prime minister seemed an impossible feat, after Sanchez led the PSOE through an election which earnt the party its worst result since Spain returned to democracy in 1978.
To make matters worse, six months later the Socialists crashed even further at a second round of elections, after a nine-month political deadlock had forced Spain to hold another vote which, again, was inconclusive.
Unwilling to form a coalition government with Mariano Rajoy’s PP party, which had won just shy of a majority vote, Sanchez was bitterly ousted by his own party.
Accused of prolonging the deadlock for personal interests, the MP was heavily criticised in the media and by fellow politicians, which led to the PSOE launching a coup against its leader.
Defiant Sanchez not only resigned from the leadership but also left his seat in Parliament, as he refused to follow his party’s decision to facilitate Rajoy’s government.
Instead, he set off on a road trip around Spain in a bid to reconnect with ‘those who haven’t been listened to, to the grassroots members and left-wing voters.’
After seven months Sanchez came back stronger than ever, winning a re-election as the party’s leader and defeating long-time favourite, Susana Diaz, regional president of Socialist stronghold Andalucia.
Much like Sanchez’s appointment as prime minister, his entry to Parliament also didn’t follow the rule book.
The Madrileño and former economist with three masters degrees, was a relative unknown when he became leader of the PSOE in 2014 after rising quickly from the party’s backbenches.
Although Sanchez had fairly limited credentials in relation to other MPs, it was hoped – due to his charisma and good looks – that he would offer a new, young and attractive image for the PSOE party.
With two new parties on the scene, Podemos and Ciudadanos, the Socialists had been struggling to find their place in a fragmented country with many blaming them for the worst economic crisis since the Spanish Civil War.
They are now right back where they want to be, albeit with the support of Spain’s left-wing party Podemos and a few small regional parties.
‘El guapo’ first found his love of politics after joining the PSOE as a student in 1993, while studying business and economics at Complutense University in Madrid. After finishing his degree, he went on to serve as chief of staff to the UN high representative to Bosnia during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.
In 2004 he became a city councillor in Madrid for five years after Elena Arnedo resigned, before being elected as a PSOE MP for Madrid in 2009.
Two years later he lost his seat and went on to study another masters while working in consultancy, before going back to politics in 2013.
He married Maria Begona Gomez Fernandez in 2016, with whom he has two daughters. He also speaks fluent English and French and has been a keen basketball player since the age of 21 – where it is thought he developed his fierce ambition to win.
But the road ahead is anything but straightforward.
With a somewhat unconventional career in politics so far, Sanchez now must work to unite a country that is facing its biggest political unrest in decades.
After winning the support of Catalunyan and Basque national parties, and with only 84 seats held by his party in a 350-seat parliament, the new prime minister faces the great challenge of keeping Catalunya happy while keeping the country’s strong economic recovery on track.
It seems Sanchez’s political journey is only just beginning.
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