Spain ends 10-month political impasse

Mr Rajoy plans to continue with his economic policies despite widespread ire over harsh austerity cuts.
Mr Rajoy plans to continue with his economic policies despite widespread ire over harsh austerity cuts.

MADRID • Spain finally turned the page on a 10-month roller-coaster political crisis as lawmakers voted the conservatives back into power despite bitter divisions.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won a parliamentary confidence vote, pledging to plough on with his economic policies, even though the opposition blames austerity in his first term for deepening inequalities.

"Do not expect me to... damage economic recovery and job creation," the 61-year-old told lawmakers during a pre-vote parliamentary session last Saturday, referring to Spain's return to growth under his watch.

Mr Rajoy won the vote thanks to an abstention by most lawmakers from the Socialist party, who opted to let their archrival govern rather than go to a third round of elections in poll-weary Spain.

In all, 170 lawmakers voted for Mr Rajoy, with 111 against and 68 Socialists abstaining.

The Socialists' decision to abstain drew stinging criticism from the party's rivals, including the far-left Podemos, and divided its ranks so seriously that party chief Pedro Sanchez was ousted earlier this month.

Hours before the vote, Mr Sanchez himself gave a tearful statement to the media, announcing that he was quitting as a lawmaker so he would not have to abstain and allow Mr Rajoy to govern.

Near Parliament, several thousand protesters took to the streets amid a heavy police presence, unhappy about corruption and sweeping spending cuts during Mr Rajoy's first term, shouting: "They don't represent us."

In Parliament itself, party leaders strongly criticised Mr Rajoy and one another - just as they had done for the past 10 months as the country went through two inconclusive elections.

This unstable period saw Spain go from jubilation - after the polls in December last year ended a two-party hold on power as millions voted for new upstart parties - to disillusion following polls in June that returned inconclusive results once again.

Mr Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) won both elections, but without enough parliamentary seats to govern alone.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Spain ends 10-month political impasse'. Print Edition | Subscribe