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A Socialist Party without mortgages

Newly elected secretary general Pedro Sánchez has a chance at effecting true party renewal

The Socialist Party has given everyone a lesson in democracy through the process that ended on Sunday with the voting in of Pedro Sánchez as its new secretary general. Other parties will find it hard to entrench themselves in old procedures after this exercise in transparency. The results, which show that two-thirds of party members turned out to vote and that the winner took 49 percent of the ballots, afford the kind of legitimacy that no other secretary general has had before. 

But the result does not give Sánchez carte blanche. Still pending is the extraordinary party congress at which he and his executive team will have to be ratified. Sánchez should not let himself be too influenced by the regional chapters’ usual demands for a share of power in the party executive, no matter how decisive these regional groups may have been for his own victory – particularly Andalusia.

Sánchez would do well to reverse the conditions: he should be the one to demand accountability for the situation in each region and examine electoral possibilities, before creating the kind of leadership that will convey to citizens the real extent of this party renewal.

All eyes are trained on the Catalan independence drive and the challenge that it poses

And then there is the unresolved issue of party primaries. In the past, each secretary general had been the “natural” Socialist candidate to run for the prime minister’s office. But now there is a commitment to hold open elections to decide on this issue as well. It is crucial to handle deadlines carefully to avoid getting caught up in several battles at the same time, perhaps by dividing the primaries into stages. Sánchez has done well to earn himself some extra time by turning to leadership bodies.

In any case, this is not such a relevant issue as would seem. What really matters is the definition of the political project. Sánchez’s express desire to take the party “to the left” has to do with restoring the Socialists’ signs of identity, but also with the challenge being posed by radical, populist sectors of the left. But the Socialist Party cannot be unaware that elections are won in the political center. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s popularity has suffered the erosion of power, granting Socialists a chance in 2015, on condition that they adequately represent the great majority of voters in the center of the political spectrum.

Needless to say, all eyes will be trained on the Catalan independence drive and the challenge that it poses. Sánchez is ruling out the referendum proposed by Catalan premier Artur Mas and his allies, but he has an ace up his sleeve in the form of the Socialist Party’s federal project, which allows him to come up with a positive alternative proposal.

Pedro Sánchez, an unknown value to most Spaniards until just a few months ago, contributes a younger image that is also not connected with the earlier governments of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and he bears no responsibility in the lines that have been followed by the Socialist Party in opposition. It remains to be seen whether he is capable of exercising leadership that is democratic, strong and able to overcome inherited mortgages. The opportunity for renewal is still there.

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