‘Mr Handsome’: who is Spain’s new PM Pedro Sanchez?

Pedro Sanchez, the leader of Spain’s Socialist Party, came to power after he successfully ousted conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote in parliament on Friday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 11:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 8:12pm

Given up for politically dead just over a year ago, Spain’s Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez bided his time out of the limelight before coming back with a bang and toppling his conservative rival.

Always immaculately suited and booted and with a disarming smile, Sanchez, 46, is known as “Mr Handsome” for his Hollywood good looks.

In public he cultivates the image of a good family man with his wife Begona. They have two daughters.

An economist with no government experience, he was the instigator of a no-confidence vote on Friday that toppled Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over a corruption scandal tainting his conservative Popular Party (PP).

Sanchez took the oath of office before King Felipe VI in the Zarzuela Palace near Madrid on Saturday.

The 1.90-metre-tall former basketball player was the first Spanish prime minister to take the oath without a Bible and crucifix.

His arrival at the prime minister’s office was an astounding comeback for the man who led the Socialists to two crushing general election defeats in 2015 and 2016.

“The miracle of Doctor Sanchez,” the left-wing El País daily called it last week.

The newspaper been highly critical of Sanchez after the elections, dubbing him “an unscrupulous fool” who had all but destroyed his party.

This time round, the daily was more moderate, describing him as “obstinate, rash, positive”.

Sanchez was forced out by his party’s leadership in October 2016. Few predicted that within 20 months he would be the leader of Spain.

But his loyal Socialist party grass roots activists voted him back in as secretary general in May 2017.

Even then the Socialists were often sidelined as Podemos, centre-right Ciudadanos and Rajoy’s PP took centre-stage.

That all changed on May 25 when Sanchez filed the no-confidence motion against Rajoy.

Born in 1972 in Madrid, Sanchez grew up in a wealthy family, his father an entrepreneur and his mother a civil servant.

He studied in the Spanish capital before getting a Master’s degree in political economy at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

Politics was always his passion.

He was an opposition town councillor in Madrid from 2004 to 2009 before entering parliament as a lawmaker under Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s administration.

That ended when the PP swept to power in 2011 with an absolute majority, kicking the struggling Socialists out of power.

But he returned to the lower house in 2013 after the resignation of a lawmaker. He went on to become Socialist party chief the next year after winning the first every primary elections organised by the 139-year-old grouping.

Having got closer to Rajoy following last year’s failed secession bid by Catalonia, Sanchez turned against him, prompting one PP lawmaker to describe him as “the Judas of Spanish politics.”

And there was no love lost between the two over the years.

Sanchez famously lashed out at Rajoy in a televised debate in 2015 just before general elections.

“The head of the government, Mr Rajoy, has to be a decent person, and you are not,” he said, demanding even then to know why Rajoy had not resigned over repeated corruption scandals that had hit the PP.

And after both the 2015 and 2016 elections proved inconclusive, with no party gaining an absolute majority, Sanchez steadfastly refused to back any coalition government led by Rajoy.

“No is no,” he said as the acting prime minister tried to approach him for a government deal.

Rajoy on Thursday accused him of “opportunism at the service of personal ambition”.

The El Mundo newspaper branded him a “leader devoured by ambition”.

Additional reporting by Associated Press