A nominee emerges in battle to head Spain’s leaderless Socialists

Former Basque premier Patxi López is first official candidate as PSOE seeks new secretary general

A nominee has stepped up to lead Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE), which has been run by a caretaker team since the previous secretary general resigned in October of last year. Patxi López, a party veteran who has been the speaker of Congress and a Basque Country premier (2009-2013), announced his decision to bid for the post this past weekend.

Former congressional speaker Patxi López.
Former congressional speaker Patxi López.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

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“I feel strong enough to rebuild the PSOE, bring everyone back within the same project and send out a clear message to society,” said López, 57.

His is the first candidacy for the position of secretary general since Pedro Sánchez walked out in protest in early October over lack of party support for his stand on the issue of Spain’s lengthy political stalemate.

After two inconclusive elections and parliamentary activity at a standstill for 10 months, PSOE deputies finally abstained at a congressional vote in late October to name the next prime minister, thereby delivering the government to their rival Popular Party (PP).

Those who call themselves the new left bring nothing but new ambitions Patxi López

The nation was politically back on track, but Spain’s oldest party has yet to recover from the traumatic rift between those who felt the PSOE had to do what it did for the sake of the country, and those who felt it was a betrayal of Socialist values.

That is why López is insisting that the June 17 and 18 party convention, during which the Socialists hope to elect a new leader, must be “one of internal unity.”

“Let’s go back to socialism” is the slogan that López is using to illustrate the main idea that will drive his campaign. His appeal to the classic values of socialism – defending individual liberties, championing the democratic system and fighting inequality – underscores the fact that many critics feel the PSOE has strayed from its foundational values in recent years.

Pedro Sánchez resigned in October, leaving the Socialists leaderless.
Pedro Sánchez resigned in October, leaving the Socialists leaderless.Reuters

López is facing the challenge of making his party win back the six million voters it has lost since 2008, with the added difficulty of dealing with a new challenger on the left of the political spectrum: Podemos.

On Sunday, López – whose rivals for the Socialist top job could include Andalusian premier Susana Díaz and Pedro Sánchez, although neither have confirmed they will run – stressed the need to take stock as a prelude to a renewed leadership role for Spain’s Socialists.

“We need to think long and hard about what’s been happening to us. The blame for our significant loss of popular support does not lie with the new forces that seek to replace us, weaken us or destroy us,” he said, in a clear reference to Podemos. “Responsibility lies within ourselves.”

López said that “those who call themselves the new left bring nothing but new ambitions,” while “the old right only brings cuts and injustices.”

The gap shrinks

The latest voter intention survey by Metroscopia confirms that the gap between the PSOE and Podemos is shrinking.

The figures show that Mariano Rajoy's PP is still the most widely supported party among Spain's voters, although the rate is down to 33.2% from 37.8% in October. Unidos Podemos – a congressional coalition of the anti-establishment party with communists, greens and others – remains in second place, but with 21.7% is now only 2.6 percentage points ahead of the PSOE, compared with 5.2% in November.

Voting intention for the Socialists is 19.1%, slightly up from the December poll but down from its election results in June (22.7%). Only the reform party Ciudadanos has gained likely voters, who now represent 15.5% of the vote, thus expanding the center-right space.

English version by Susana Urra.

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