The leader of Spain’s Socialist Party Pedro Sánchez took over as prime minister early on June 1 immediately after his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, was toppled following a no-confidence vote that was brought on by a wide-ranging corruption scandal that involved several members of the centre-right Popular Party and who had close ties to Rajoy.
Rajoy lost the no-confidence vote by a 180-to-169 margin, with one abstention. After several days of deliberations, the opposition managed to pull together enough votes pass the benchmark 176 that are needed to come out with a favourable result. Sánchez secured the support of the Socialist Party’s 84 seats, 67 votes from its leftist allies Podemos, 5 votes from the Basque nationalist party, the Republican Left of Catalonia’s 9 votes, and 8 tallies from the Catalan European Democratic Party.
Key to losing the confidence vote was the decision by the Basque nationalists to drop its support for the Rajoy government after Sánchez pledged to keep the budget introduced by Rajoy’s Popular Party.
Should the country have gone to the polls, the leading party amongst the voters, the centre-right Ciudadanos, had committed to limiting the scope of economic autonomy for the Basque Country.
The pro-secessionist Catalan unsurprisingly voted against Rajoy – who is widely vilified by the Catalan nationalists for suspending the region’s autonomous rights following an illegal independence referendum in October – despite the fact that the Socialists have supported Rajoy’s move to suspend Barcelona’s autonomy rights in favour of direct rule over by Madrid after the independence poll.
Rajoy’s party is under intense scrutiny over a corruption scandal that involved a kickbacks-for-contracts scheme that involved senior Popular Party. Sánchez had for the last several days encouraged Rajoy to step down as more details of the scandal have begun to emerge. Rajoy answered “every time you open your mouth, the risk premium goes up,” suggesting that Spain needs economic stability more than a new government. He also accused the Socialists of hypocrisy, suggesting it was also embroiled in a system of corruption.
By exiting the stage under a cloud of uncertainty, Rajoy’s legacy is will be controversial due to the corruption scandal.
He came to power in 2011 amidst an acute economic crisis in 2011 and is credited with implementing a robust fiscal consolidation programme, returning the country to impressive growth rates and a sharp drop in double-digit unemployment. In October of last year, Rajoy directly confronted the Catalan secessionists, which led to pro-separatist former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to flee to Brussels and for home rule to be indefinitely suspended for the region.
Ironically, however, it was the nationalist vote from both the Catalans and the Basques that was key to ousting him from the government. The fiscal consolidation programme that led to Spain’s rebound was not entirely uncontroversial either. Spain’s inequality indexes have surged, while the growth rate and unemployment continue to improve.
The Party of European Socialists welcomed Sánchez’ election, saying they were happy to see a “shift away from the austerity policies of the past years.”