Spain's prime minister on Friday called a snap general election and revealed the date as April 28, paving the way for the beginning of campaigning.
Pedro Sánchez, 46, of the Socialist Party, said he was asking for parliament to dissolve and for the elections to be held one month ahead of regional elections in the country.
"I have proposed the dissolution of parliament and call for elections on April 28," Sánchez said in a nationally televised press conference at the prime minister’s official residence, Moncloa Palace.
The choice to hold general elections became necessary after Parliament refused to back the Socialist government's budget proposal for next year.
Votes cast by lawmakers of the right-wing opposition Popular Party, the business-friendly center-right Ciudadanos ("Citizens") and two Catalan separatist outfits narrowly defeated the liberal budget plan put forward by the ruling Socialists, which was backed by the left-wing Unidos Podemos ("United We Can") and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and had been hailed as the most progressive and socially ambitious spending bill since Spain's transition to democracy 40 years ago.
Sanchez came to power in June by triggering a successful no-confidence vote against his predecessor Mariano Rajoy's minority conservative Popular Party government.
On that occasion, the two pro-Catalan independence parties, the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCat) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), had backed Sánchez, but the withdrawal of their support for the budget made it inevitable that general elections should be called.
The election campaigns will now coincide with the legal proceedings in Spain's Supreme Court, where 12 separatist leaders were on trial for their involvement in an illegal independence referendum and a subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.
Prosecutors are arguing that the Catalan leaders took part in an attempted coup against Spanish unity and the rule of law.
Prior to the case coming to trial, Sánchez began to foment dialogue with separatists, but in the end, refused to negotiate with the Catalan independence lobby and denied the prosperous region's parliament a right to hold an agreed and therefore legal secessionist referendum.
The verdict in that trial could coincide with the election results.
As Spain’s parties prepared to crank up their political campaigns, pollsters suggested a close fight for power that would require coalition agreements.
Sánchez said the vote of no confidence that saw him attain power almost nine months ago had been a milestone in Spain’s modern history.
He said that at the time, the PP government had become mired corruption scandals "to the point where it could no longer pay attention to the needs of the country because it was constantly looking behind its back and firefighting."
He said that since his government had come to power, the Socialists had approved 25 reformist laws that were paving the way to the reconstruction of the welfare state and to a better way of looking after the country’s needs in a modern world.
Pablo Casado, the leader of the PP, claimed that it was thanks to him that the snap elections had been called because he had made it impossible for Sánchez's budget to be approved, thus causing the Socialists to “throw in the towel.”
He added that electors now had a choice between a government led by him which would exercise a hard line against Catalan separatists or “a Popular Front government” that was prepared to negotiate with them.
“Popular Front” was a disparaging reference to the left-wing democratically-backed coalition that ruled Spain’s Second Republic in 1936 just before an army uprising that precipitated the country into a fratricidal civil war which was eventually won by Gen. Francisco Franco with the help of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
Albert Rivera, leader of Ciudadanos, was also scathing about Sánchez, describing the alliance that has enabled him to rule as “a Frankenstein government” that was prepared to negotiate with political groups intent on dismembering Spain.
Polls commissioned by leading newspaper El Pais suggested Sánchez’s Socialist Party could narrowly win the elections with 24 percent of the votes cast, with the PP coming second with 21 percent, meaning that coalitions would have to be sought with Ciudadanos, predicted to collect 18 percent of the votes while the hard-left Unidos Podemos could garner 15 percent and the hard-right newcomer party Vox could make 11 percent.
A poll commissioned by news organization eldiario.es suggested that a coalition of the PP, Citizens and Vox could come to power with a sum of 51.2 percent of the votes, with PSOE and Unidos Podemos consigned to the opposition on 39.5 percent of votes cast.
The survey was based on 1,100 telephone interviews in the first five working days of Feb.
By Harold Heckle