Pedro Sanchez, the phoenix of Spanish socialism

Álvaro VILLALOBOS
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Sanchez needs the support of the far-left Podemos to remain in power

After his surprise elevation to the post of prime minister in June last year, Spain's Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez this week faces a risky confidence vote in parliament, the latest twist in his rollercoaster political career.

The 47-year-old led Spain's oldest political party to two of its worst defeats in 2015 and 2016 but in June 2018, he toppled the conservative premier Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote with the support of far-left Podemos, Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists.

It was the first ouster of a serving leader by parliament since Spain returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

"Today we write a new page in the democratic history of our country," Sanchez, a married father of two daughters, said at the time.

But the fragile alliance which catapulted him to power cracked in February when Catalan separatist lawmakers in the national parliament rejected Sanchez's draft 2019 budget, triggering early elections in April.

In those polls, the Socialists captured 123 seats in the 350-seat parliament -- short of an absolute majority but far ahead of any other party.

Now, to remain in power, he needs the support of Podemos in a confidence vote in parliament this week.

- 'Resistance Manual' -

Despite being largely unknown, Sanchez won a primary election in 2014 to become Socialist party chief, beating more experienced politicians.

But after the 2015 and 2016 general election defeats he was pushed out in an internal rebellion.

Sanchez unexpectedly won back his old job in a party primary election in May 2017 after driving from rally to rally in his own car.

He easily defeated his main rival Susana Diaz, who was backed by virtually all of the party establishment.

He recalled his political triumph in a book called "Resistance Manual", the first to be published in Spain by a sitting premier. Sanchez said he would donate any profits from the book to the homeless.

- Franco, Aquarius -

Once in power, Sanchez made history by appointing a cabinet with a majority of women, offered to take in migrants from the Aquarius search and rescue ship and raised the minimum wage by 22 percent after years of austerity.

But he has until now failed to carry out a promise to move the remains of Franco from an opulent mausoleum to a more discreet location, one of his priorities.

Right-wing parties have accused Sanchez of being a "traitor" because of his willingness to negotiate with Catalan separatist parties which in 2017 staged a failed attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain.

Born on a February 29 -- a Leap Day -- in 1972 in Madrid, Sanchez grew up in a well-off family, his father an entrepreneur and his mother a civil servant.

The 1.90-metre-tall (6-foot-2) former basketball player joined the Socialist party in his early 20s. He served as a municipal councillor in Madrid between 2004 and 2009, then as a national lawmaker.

Sanchez studied economics in the Spanish capital and the Free University of Brussels before obtaining a doctorate degree from a private Spanish university.

Last year, he angrily denied accusations that parts of his thesis were plagiarised.