Madrid: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy admitted defeat on Friday ahead of a no-confidence vote which was certain to topple him, paving the way for a takeover by opposition leader Pedro Sanchez, his arch rival.
“It’s been an honour — there is none bigger — to have been Spain’s prime minister,” he told parliament after congratulating Sanchez, with lawmakers from his conservative Popular Party (PP) giving him a standing ovation.
Barring any last-minute U-turn, an absolute majority of lawmakers, among them Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists, will vote through a no-confidence motion filed last week by the Socialists following a corruption scandal involving the PP.
“Today we are signing a new page in the history of democracy in our country,” Sanchez told parliament where MPs were to begin voting at 0901 GMT.
But PP lawmaker Rafael Hernando told him he would be entering the prime minister’s office “through the back door” after failing to win the vote in 2015 and 2016.
“For the first time we may get a prime minister who didn’t win elections,” he retorted.
In order to push through the no-confidence motion, the Socialists, who hold just 84 of the parliament’s 350 seats, have had to cosy up to parties they have previously clashed with, like Catalan separatists and the anti-establishment Podemos.
As such, even if he has pledged to govern long enough to restore “institutional stability,” Sanchez’s new government will likely be highly unstable.
Aitor Esteban of the Basque PNV nationalist party, whose support proved decisive for the motion’s success, said Thursday such a minority government would be “weak and difficult, complicated.”
Although Rajoy survived a similar vote last year, Friday’s ballot will draw a line under the 63-year-old’s rollercoaster 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, he lacked the absolute majority of his first term.
He put Spain back onto the path of growth after a devastating economic crisis although unemployment remains sky-high, jobs precarious and many complain inequalities have risen.
But his term in office was also marred by a series of corruption scandals involving former PP members.
And it was another graft scandal that prompted the Socialists to table the no-confidence motion after a court said it had uncovered a vast system of bribes given to former PP officials in exchange for lucrative public contracts between 1999 and 2005.
The National Court, which deals with major criminal cases, sentenced 29 people with links to the PP, including a former treasurer, to jail.
It also ordered the party to pay back 245,000 euros ($290,000) received from the scheme to help finance election campaigns.
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