Forget about what the new socialist government's policies are going to be, because no one really knows yet. Forget about who the new ministers are going to be, because no one really knows yet. And forget about how long this government is going to last. No one has a clue right now. What is worthy of note is how Pedro Sánchez has just crushed all of his political opponents in a week. Last Friday, the PSOE had slowly slumped to less than 20% in the polls and he was being written off by columnists and commentators. This Saturday, he will be driven to Zarzuela Palace to be sworn in as the new socialist Prime Minister of Spain before King Felipe, having achieved the support of Podemos, Compromís (Valencia), PDeCat (Catalonia), Esquerra (Catalonia), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), EH Bildu (Basque Country), and Nueva Canarias (Canary Islands).
The last seven days have been a raw grab for political power—President Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards would have been impressed—for the top seat in Spanish politics, for Moncloa, the Prime Minister's office. And Sánchez has stunned the country with his operation. Proof positive is the shell-shocked state Mariano Rajoy—a 36-year veteran of the Spanish political system—was in on Thursday night as he stumbled out of a central Madrid restaurant where he had spent eight hours hidden away from the second half of the confidence debate against him, watching it on a TV screen. Whisky was involved, Spanish media reported, and the dishes the place serves looked delicious, but the outgoing PM—to his discredit—could not stand a final evening in parliament being bashed by opposition parties, once the Basque Nationalists had decided to support the socialist candidate, who is not even an MP.
Mr. Rajoy put in a more honourable last-minute appearance in the chamber on Friday morning to congratulate Mr. Sánchez, wishing him well, but reports early on Friday evening said he had ordered departing ministers to empty drawers and filing cabinets in ministries right away, rather than wait for a more orderly or leisurely process next week. Photos appeared of dozens of black bin bags stacked outside the walls of the PM's office, ready for removal. In the modern democratic period, since Franco, Spain has never seen such a quick change of power: table the motion, prepare the motion, debate the motion, win the motion, go and see the King, govern. Nine days, versus the three months or so it normally takes at a general election, with the dissolution of parliament, statutory waiting periods, the election campaign, and the reopening of Congress.
Mr. Rajoy is likely not the only political leader who needs a stiff drink this weekend. Pedro Sánchez has just left Pablo Iglesias—who nine days ago thought his biggest problem was an absurd internal ballot about his new luxury home—sitting in the dust in the fight for the Spanish left. Two years ago, with the sudden appearance and meteoric rise of Podemos, Mr. Iglesias's stated strategic goal was not to win the election but to dominate the Spanish left. He just lost that race. Pedro Sánchez has just left Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera rabbiting on incessantly about wanting a new general election instead of the socialists "unfairly" grabbing power, because Mr. Rivera is—or was—doing rather better in the polls than the rest. But rabbit on is all he can do for now because, just like nine days ago, in the real world Ciudadanos still only has 32 seats in Congress. And Pedro Sánchez has just left the powerful leader of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, Susana Diaz, well, in Andalusia. This might be the sweetest victory of all for the new Prime Minister, because it was she who wielded her considerable internal and establishment influence in October 2016 to oust Mr. Sánchez as leader of the PSOE, allowing Mariano Rajoy to be reappointed Prime Minister after a year of national stalemate unbroken by two general elections.
Again: Pedro Sánchez, written off by some as being too handsome to have any interesting ideas, has, somewhere along the way, learnt to execute political hit jobs that have left all of his major political opponents staggering, and sent what was a confident conservative party that had only just passed a new budget—two days previously—scurrying into opposition, wounded. In a week. Whatever happens next in Spanish politics, do not underestimate Pedro Sánchez.
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