Mariano Rajoy ousted, Pedro Sánchez set to take over

Spanish socialist Pedro Sánchez was catapulted to power, taking over as Prime Minister from veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote in the wake of a corruption scandal
Mariano Rajoy ousted, Pedro Sánchez set to take over
Spain's Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez - Photo: Sergio Pérez/REUTERS
01/06/2018
13:51
Reuters
Madrid
Sonya Dowsett & Julien Toyer
-A +A

On Friday, Spanish socialist Pedro Sánchez was catapulted to power, taking over as Prime Minister from veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Lawmakers stood and cheered in parliament as the untested 46-year-old—a pro-European lawmaker who has never been in government—became the country’s seventh head of government since its return to democracy in the late 1970s.

Rajoy’s departure after six years in office may lead to a spell of political uncertainty in the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, just as the third-largest—Italy—pulls back from early elections.

“I am aware of the responsibility I am assuming, of the complex political moment our country is going through, and I will rise to all the challenges with humility and dedication,” Sánchez told reporters.

Sánchez, who became Prime Minister with only 84 seats for his Socialists in the 350-member assembly thanks to support from the hard-left Podemos and smaller nationalist parties, said he intends to steer the country through to mid-2020 when the parliamentary term ends.

But his majority—the smallest for a Spanish government since the return to democracy following Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, makes it unclear how long his administration can last.

His strong pro-European credentials and the fact that Rajoy also ran a minority government suggest fallout from any political ructions is likely to be limited.

Anger with corruption allowed Sánchez to win Friday’s no-confidence motion by 180 votes to 169, with one abstention.

But the fragmented parliament means he will find it hard to row back on structural reforms passed by his predecessor, including new labor laws and cuts in healthcare and education.

The anti-austerity Podemos, a product of widespread anger at spending cuts imposed by Rajoy’s first government at the height of the eurozone crisis, has promised to support Sánchez in parliament.

But the hard-left party seems unlikely to gain major influence over Sánchez, who is keen to win back centrist voters.

Outgoing premier Rajoy conceded defeat prior to the no-confidence vote, congratulating Sánchez and telling deputies in a short speech: “It has been an honor to have left Spain in a better state than I found it.”

The 63-year-old veteran took over the government in 2011 in the middle of a deep recession and presided over a dramatic economic recovery.

However, his position had become increasingly untenable, undermined by scandals encircling his party as well as an independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia, which led Madrid to impose direct rule on the region last autumn.

Two Catalan pro-independence parties backed the motion of no-confidence in Rajoy.

Sánchez, who will be sworn in on Saturday, is expected to appoint his cabinet next week, has promised to start talks with the Catalans but has said he will not give the region an independence referendum. On Friday, Catalan authorities announced their new cabinet, hoping to pave the way for Madrid to end its direct rule.

German prosecutors on Friday made a court application for the extradition to Spain of the leader of Catalonia’s independence movement, former regional president Carles Puigdemont, on charges linked to his role in the region’s independence drive.

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