Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, who announced snap elections Monday after his ruling Socialists were routed in local polls, is a consummate risk-taker who’s shown a flair for daring gambles during his rollercoaster political career.
Weakened by five turbulent years in power that covered the Covid pandemic and the economic crisis linked to the Ukraine war, Spain’s 51-year-old prime minister caught everyone off guard by announcing an early general election in late July.
The vote had been widely expected at the year’s end, but after his Socialists and their allies suffered a major blow in Sunday’s local polls, Sanchez took a risky gamble — in what observers said has been a hallmark of his career.
“The alternative was six months of governmental bloodletting,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at Barcelona’s Autonomous University.
“He’s decided to gamble it all. It’s typical Pedro Sanchez, it’s just what he does,” he told AFP.
It was, agrees Paloma Roman, a political scientist at Madrid’s Complutense University, a “strategic calculation” to hang on for the next two months and improve what he already has.
“For the Socialists, it’s the lesser of two evils… If they’d held out (until the year’s end) it would have been so much worse,” she said.
A Madrid-born economist and former basketball player, Sanchez went from being an unknown MP who emerged from obscurity in 2014 to seizing the reins of Spain’s oldest political party.
And he has enjoyed a rollercoaster political career.
– Written off, bounces back –
A leap-year baby who was born in Madrid on February 29, 1972, Sanchez grew up in a well-off family, the son of an entrepreneur father and a mother who worked as a civil servant.
He studied economics before getting a Master’s degree in political economy at the Free University of Brussels and a doctorate from a private Spanish university.
Elected to the party leadership in 2014, Sanchez was written off politically after leading the Socialists to their worst-ever electoral defeats in 2015 and 2016.
Ejected from the leadership, Sanchez unexpectedly won his job back in a primary in May 2017 after a cross-country campaign in his 2005 Peugeot to rally support.
Within barely a year, he took over as premier in June 2018 after an ambitious gamble that saw him topple conservative Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote.
“He is a politician who often makes these kinds of decisions,” said Bartomeus.
“So far it’s mostly worked for him… although things are more complicated now,” he said, noting Sanchez had been weakened by his time in office.
– Stubborn and tenacious –
Always immaculately suited and booted, this telegenic politician — who likes to go running and looms over his rivals at 1.9 metres (6 foot 2 inches) tall — has made a name for himself as stubborn and tenacious.
Over the past five years, he has had to play a delicate balancing act to stay in power.