Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was toppled by a corruption scandal Friday, becoming the first leader in Spain’s modern democracy to lose a vote of no confidence in Parliament.
The demise of Rajoy – one of Europe’s longest-serving political leaders – paves the way for Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the main opposition Socialist party, to become Prime Minister.
Friday’s vote in Madrid was the culmination of years of corruption allegations against Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP). The scandal came to a head last week when a court convicted his former aides of running slush funds to help finance PP election campaigns, prompting Sánchez to file the confidence motion.
The fall of Rajoy’s government comes at a time of wider political turmoil in Europe. Two populist parties in Italy have just reached an agreement to form a coalition government after months of wrangling, Brexit dominates UK politics and the European Union must now contend with a looming trade war with the US.
Spain’s political tumult is born of a long-running corruption scandal coupled with internal division. Although still feeling the effects of the global economic crisis, Spain’s economy is performing better than that of Italy, and anti-European sentiment played no part in its change of government.
Nonetheless, Sánchez, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), faces significant challenges as he assumes office. Spain was riven last year by the Catalan independence crisis, which remains unresolved.
Rajoy’s fate was sealed on Thursday after the Socialists secured support for the no-confidence motion from a number of smaller parties in Parliament, including the Basque Nationalist Party.
In total, 180 of the chamber’s 350 lawmakers voted in support of the motion, a clear majority. There were 169 votes against and one abstention. It was the first time in Spain’s post-1977 democracy that a Spanish Prime Minister has fallen in this way.
Ana Pastor, President of the lower house of the Spanish Parliament, announced that Sánchez has “the trust of the Parliament” and so becomes the new Prime Minister of Spain. In line with the constitution, she was to inform Spain’s King Felipe II on Friday afternoon.
Sánchez received a standing ovation, with parliamentarians shouting: “Yes, it can be done.”