Saturday 15 December 2018

Spain's PM faces ousting in vote of no confidence

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces motion of no confidence. Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces motion of no confidence. Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Aritz Parra

Mariano Rajoy is facing defeat in a crunch vote to oust him as prime minister of Spain as his party looks likely to lose its grip on power after being swept up in a corruption scandal.

The prime minister's rule is almost certain to end today as opposition parties in the Spanish parliament promised to back a motion of no confidence after senior former ruling party officials were jailed in connection with a corruption scandal.

Pedro Sánchez, leader of the main opposition socialist party, will become prime minister in place of Mr Rajoy when, as is expected, an absolute majority in Spain's Congress supports the motion in a vote this afternoon.

There was speculation that Mr Rajoy could opt to resign before today's vote in Congress, in which case his People's Party (PP) government would remain in power as an interim administration.

But the PP secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, said yesterday evening that Mr Rajoy would not stand down "as it would not benefit the interests of Spain".

While Mr Sánchez seems certain to win the motion, it will be hard for the socialists to govern effectively with only 84 members in the 350-strong lower house.

Mr Sánchez has said he plans to call elections before the legislature expires in 2020, but has so far refused to set a date.

The socialists triggered the motion after a court in Madrid last week sentenced several former PP officials, including the party's one-time treasurer, to hefty jail sentences in a large-scale corruption trial.

In their verdict, the judges concluded that the PP had run a slush fund of kickbacks from companies "parallel to its official financial structure" from its foundation in 1989 up to 2005, the last year under investigation in the case.

Mr Rajoy was called as a witness in the trial, but his testimony that the PP had not used off-the-books accounting was described in the judges' ruling as "not credible".

Mr Sánchez urged Mr Rajoy to resign, saying: "Mr Rajoy, your time is up."

Mr Sánchez (46) reminded the chamber that last week's damaging court ruling questioned Mr Rajoy's claim that he and other top officials were unaware of the party's illegal accounting.

The prime minister fought back. Mr Rajoy said he had personally done nothing wrong, and warned the assembled politicians about backing a "Frankenstein government", in reference to the socialists needing support from the Left-wing Podemos, pro-independence Catalan parties and the Basque Nationalist Party, among others, to reach a majority.

He said it makes no sense to seek a no-confidence vote based on the graft ruling because the National Court's verdict "doesn't include any criminal punishment" for his party.

"Everybody knows that Pedro Sánchez is never going to win the elections and this is the reason for his motion, his urgency," Mr Rajoy told lawmakers, reminding them that the Socialists have lost two general elections under Mr Sánchez's leadership and warning that his government would endanger financial stability.

On the issue of the Catalan government's bid for independence, the socialist leader promised to enter dialogue to reach agreements "within constitutional bounds".

The pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, whose leader Albert Rivera is riding a wave of popularity after pressing Mr Rajoy for a more aggressive approach in crushing the Catalan separatist challenge, is refusing to support Mr Sánchez because it wants a snap election as soon as possible.

"Rajoy might survive for a while, because it's very difficult that the other parties can come to an agreement to remove him," said Andrew Dowling, an expert in Spanish politics at Cardiff University in Wales. "But it's definitely the beginning of the end of Rajoy and his Popular Party."

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