Sanchez Stays as Spanish Premier After Threatening to Quit

(Bloomberg) -- Pedro Sanchez announced he’s not going to resign as Spain’s prime minister after all, vowing to stay on to “defend democracy” as he drew a five-day national guessing game to an uncertain close.

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After taking a break from public view in order to consider his future, Sanchez announced his decision in a televised statement from his official residence in Madrid. Last week the 52-year-old premier had said he’d consider resigning after a judge opened a case alleging influence-peddling against his wife Begona Gomez.

Sanchez has repeatedly described the investigation into his wife as part of a right-wing plot to harass his family. Yet his unusual deliberations arrive not long into a hard-won third term in office, leading observers to speculate whether this was just another high-stakes ploy of the type the Socialist prime minister has become known for.

Those inclined to see the episode as erratic were given fuel by the timing of the premier’s announcement, which was kept opaque until Monday morning and then moved forward by an hour just minutes later. Critics are already seizing the opportunity to bash him.

“He should give fewer speeches without journalists and more press conferences to offer explanations,” Madrid regional President Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a leading figure in the conservative opposition and one of Sanchez’s most powerful critics, said Monday.

Opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo was more blunt: “They have pulled the leg of a nation of 48 million,” he said in a press conference in Madrid.

While Sanchez’s fellow Socialists called on him to stay at a demonstration over the weekend, his opponents accuse him of playing the victim and many in his own party are unhappy with the way he handled the issue.

Catalan Elections

The inquiry into Gomez’s business dealings was instigated by an anti-corruption organization with far-right links.

Sanchez and his government have long had a tense relationship with large parts of the judiciary, which they consider to be mostly conservative and close to center-right People’s Party. Socialists in parliament have been highly critical of the courts, arguing that many legal decisions are politically motivated.

The far-right group Vox has regularly sought to overturn laws passed by the government by appealing to the courts.

Sanchez’s decision comes at an intense moment in Spanish politics, with Catalonia holding regional elections on May 12. Sanchez’s Socialist party had been on course to take power from the incumbent separatists but the prime minister’s announcement last week upstaged the start of campaigning and forced the Socialist candidate to rework his strategy at the last minute.

The volatile politics in the country’s second-biggest region have had an outsized impact since an illegal referendum on independence in 2017 and the outcome of next month’s ballot could have broad national implications.

Although Spain’s tourism-dependent economy suffered more than many others from the pandemic lockdowns, Sanchez has overseen solid economic growth since taking office in 2018, regularly ranking among the best in the euro zone.

In spite of this expansion, Sanchez’s economic record has attracted criticism, largely because he’s seen government debt increase and failed to get his fractious coalition to back big reforms. The country ought to be the second-largest recipient of EU recovery funds, but has failed to take full advantage owing to its inability to push through the necessary legislation.

“I have decided to continue, with more energy if possible, as the head of the government,” Sanchez said during Monday’s announcement, without taking any questions. “I assume, in front of you all, my commitment to work tirelessly, firmly and calmly for the necessary regeneration of our democracy.”

(Updates with comment from opposition leaders and analysis from third paragraph.)

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