Sanchez’s Bad Week: Data, Errors Mar Spain Leader’s Campaign

Charles Penty

(Bloomberg) -- Spanish election week could have gone better for Pedro Sanchez.

The acting prime minister had hoped for a trouble-free few days before Spain’s general election on Sunday, the fourth in as many years. Instead, he’s found himself defending the health of the economy and dragged further into the morass of the Catalan separatist movement.

As Spaniards prepare to head to the polls, Sanchez has been pleading with voters to help him end a political stalemate that has left the country without a majority government since 2015. But opinion polls indicate the deadlock is likely to continue with no grouping from the left or right able to form a stable administration.

“The stronger the first-placed party is and the more power Spaniards give us on Sunday with their vote, the less excuses the rest will have to block a government,” Sanchez said in an interview Friday with Cadena Ser radio.

While a run of 24 straight quarters of sustained growth should be helping Sanchez spin a positive narrative about Spain’s prospects, election week has brought bad news on unemployment and the economic outlook that has put him on the back foot.

Sanchez also slipped up in a radio interview when he appeared to say that prosecutors answered to the government instead of being independent. It was an unfortunate comment in the context of efforts to justify the jailing by the country’s Supreme Court of Catalan separatist leaders for their failed bid to break from Spain in 2017.

“I wasn’t accurate in the affirmation I made,” he said in a subsequent interview when asked to explain the comment. “There are lots of interviews, many hours in front of the microphone or in front of a screen.”

Here are some of the lowlights of Sanchez’s election week:

It started with a televised debate in which People’s Party candidate Pablo Casado rounded on Sanchez, saying his Socialists were being complacent about the risks of a slowing economy. The next day, Spain’s statistics agency published data showing the ranks of the registered unemployed had swelled by nearly 100,000 in October, a 3.2% increase that was the biggest monthly percentage jump since January 2012 when the country was in full financial crisis.On Wednesday, Sanchez made his unfortunate comment about state prosecutors. Asked in a radio interview about his efforts to have Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president, extradited from Belgium for leading the illegal independence bid, Sanchez appeared to assert that prosecutors answered to the government. His administration has been at pains to show the pursuit of separatist leaders is part of a legal process, not the act of a vengeful state. The Spanish Prosecutors’ Association issued a swift response: “The state prosecutor’s department does not carry out government orders,” it said in a statement.On Thursday, Sanchez got more bad news on the economy when the European Commission cut its 2019 growth outlook for Spain to 1.9% from 2.3%. While the country continues to grow more robustly than its peers, the weakening outlook for the economy has become an election issue.Meanwhile, it’s been another tense week in Catalonia. Spanish media carried reports that radical separatists had plotted an assault on the Catalan parliament with help from the region’s pro-independence President Joaquim Torra. In a statement, Torra denied any link to the group. Even so, news items like this are helping to mobilize support for the Spanish nationalist party Vox.

(Updates with Sanchez comment in fourth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Jeannette Neumann.

To contact the reporter on this story: Charles Penty in Madrid at cpenty@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Caroline Alexander, Jerrold Colten

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