Spanish PM ousted by MPs angry over graft

Mr Pedro Sanchez (left) acknowledging the applause of his Spanish Socialist Party yesterday as he became Spain's latest Prime Minister.
Mr Pedro Sanchez (left) acknowledging the applause of his Spanish Socialist Party yesterday as he became Spain's latest Prime Minister.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Socialist leader takes over after no-confidence vote following scandals

MADRID • Spain's Parliament yesterday ousted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote sparked by fury over his party's corruption woes, with his Socialist arch-rival Pedro Sanchez automatically taking over.

An absolute majority of 180 lawmakers voted for the motion to loud applause and shouts of "Yes we can", making Mr Rajoy the first prime minister to be ousted by such a vote since Spain transitioned to democracy in 1977.

The bespectacled 63-year-old leader got up and shook hands with Mr Sanchez before leaving the Lower House without a word.

Mr Rajoy had admitted defeat minutes before the vote, knowing that an absolute majority of lawmakers as diverse as Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists had pledged their support for the no-confidence motion.

"It's been an honour - there is none bigger - to have been Spain's prime minister," he told Parliament, with lawmakers from his conservative Popular Party (PP) giving him a standing ovation.

Mr Sanchez, Spain's 46-year-old opposition leader, had instigated the no-confidence motion last week after a court revealed details of a vast system of bribes given to former PP officials in exchange for lucrative public contracts between 1999 and 2005.

"Today we are signing a new page in the history of democracy in our country," Mr Sanchez told Parliament prior to the vote.

After years of anger over the scandals tainting the PP, corruption finally got the better of the party and sealed Mr Rajoy's downfall. Although Mr Rajoy survived a similar no-confidence vote last year, yesterday's ballot draws a line under his roller-coaster time in office, which began in 2011 and saw him implementing drastic spending cuts before winning re-election in 2015 and 2016.

Despite winning the last two votes, however, he lacked the absolute majority of his first term. Although he put Spain back onto the path of growth after a devastating economic crisis, unemployment remains sky-high, jobs precarious and many complain that inequalities have risen.

Mr Rajoy's position had also become undermined by a divisive independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia.

His departure casts one of the European Union's top four economies into an uncertain political landscape, just as another - Italy - pulled back from early elections. But with most Spanish political parties and Mr Sanchez himself being pro-European, investors see less broader political risk there than in Italy.

To push through the no-confidence motion, the Socialists, who hold just 84 of 350 seats in Parliament, had to cosy up to parties they previously clashed with, such as Catalan separatists and anti-establishment Podemos.

That means even if Mr Sanchez has pledged to govern long enough to restore "institutional stability" before calling early polls, his new government will probably be highly unstable. Podemos has already asked to be in the government.

The fragmented Parliament also means Mr Sanchez will find it hard to row back on structural reforms passed by his predecessor, including new labour laws.

The Basque Nationalist Party, whose five seats were key to Mr Sanchez securing enough parliamentary backing, withdrew support from Mr Rajoy after dozens of people linked to PP were sentenced to decades in jail in a corruption trial.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2018, with the headline 'Spanish PM ousted by MPs angry over graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe