MADRID — Spain’s Socialist party was hit by a "coup" attempt on Wednesday with half of its leadership quitting in a bid to oust leader Pedro Sanchez, as the country’s political deadlock took its toll.
But while Sanchez remained silent on Wednesday evening, his ally and party number two Cesar Luena told reporters the 44-year-old remained firmly in place, in a clear indication he was hanging on.
The Socialists (PSOE) have for months been wracked by internal dissent that has now burst into the open as Spain’s protracted stalemate takes its toll following two inconclusive elections.
The party took a drubbing in two weekend regional polls, and scored historically low results in December general elections and in a repeat vote in June as voters flocked to other upstart parties.
"Seventeen resignations... were handed in today," a party spokesman said on Wednesday.
With two separate, former resignations, this takes the number of party executives that have quit to 19 out of 35, more than the majority.
According to Luena, under party rules, an extraordinary meeting of grassroots members must now be called to elect a new executive, and they will also decide on whether they want their leader to remain.
"The grassroots members are those who must decide what project and leadership they want," Luena told reporters.
"Tricks and coups don’t have their place here," he added.
"The Socialist party leader is its secretary general, and the PSOE’s secretary general -- elected by party members -- is Pedro Sanchez."
Refusing to get into bed
As Spain’s political paralysis drags on with rival parties refusing to get into bed with each other, many within the PSOE want the party to help unblock the situation and let a right-wing coalition government through parliament by abstaining in the necessary vote of confidence.
That, they argue, would allow them to go into opposition where the party could build up strength again.
But instead the Socialists voted against such a coalition government led by acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earlier this month, prompting it to fail.
Sanchez is now trying to form his own coalition with Podemos, the anti-austerity party that wants to replace it as the country’s main left-wing force.
In a sign of how severe tensions are within the party, former Socialist prime minister Felipe Gonzalez came out on radio on Wednesday morning accusing Sanchez of having "tricked" him.
"He told me he would go into opposition, that he would not attempt any alternative government," Gonzalez told the Cadena Ser radio station, adding Sanchez had made those comments on June 29, just days after repeat general elections.
"I feel frustrated... as if I had been tricked."
Several of the so-called "party barons" -- or regional presidents – have also criticised Sanchez.
But many also believe that the grassroots party members do not want to see a government led by Rajoy come to power, and Sanchez will be banking on this to help his cause. — AFP