Pedro Sánchez is Spain's new prime minister after vote of no confidence in Rajoy

Pedro Sánchez.
Pedro Sánchez. / AFP
  • Following last week’s damning Gürtel corruption sentence, the Socialist leader seized his chance to oust Mariano Rajoy's conservative government

  • The support of the Basque nationalist party PNV was key to the success of the motion in the vote on Friday

The Socialist party leader Pedro Sánchez has become Spain's new prime minister after a majority of MPs supported the vote of no confidence on Friday, toppling the ruling Partido Popular party (PP) and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Sánchez achieved 180 votes in favour of his motion, with 169 against and one abstention.

The ‘express’ no-confidence debate had been called by the PSOE in response to last week’s judgments against the PP and several former top members in the massive Gürtel corruption trial. Those found guilty were sentenced to a total of 351 in prison, the PP was found guilty of operating fraudulent party funding and the PM himself was criticised as an unreliable witness.

With the public mood decidedly fed up with the relentless news of political corruption across Spain, the PSOE’s Sánchez seized his chance to force out the minority conservative government by offering himself as a candidate to be PM instead in an MPs’ vote.

While it wasn’t immediately clear if he would get enough votes to succeed at the start of the debate on the no-confidence motion on Thursday, it became clear that smaller parties were rallying to the call and the PP became increasingly nervous. Rajoy accused Sánchez, who isn’t a sitting MP at the moment, of opportunism, “because he would never win any public election”.

Support for PSOE grows

In his address to MPs, Sánchez promised to maintain the recently agreed national budget for 2018 in order to maximise his cross-party support.

His PSOE party with 84 MPs was automatically supported by left-wing Podemos and allies (on 67 seats) as well as the Catalan republicans (9 seats). Other minority parties came round as the debate progressed to say they would vote in favour of the motion and usher in Sánchez as new PM. This brought the anti-Rajoy coalition to just short of a 176 absolute majority to succeed, depending on the decision of the PNV Basque nationalist party.

Basque nationalists decide

The PNV held off announcing their decision on which way to vote until Thursday afternoon. On one hand the conservative-leaning PNV, satisfied with funding concessions for the Basque Country in the national budget, was keen to keep the status quo. On the other hand, its leaders knew a rejection of the motion would push more of its supporters towards the more radical Basque separatist parties.

In the end it decided to back the motion, with Rajoy heading for defeat and the country a new prime minister on Friday.

The possible resignation of Mariano Rajoy before the vote had been the only option remaining to stop PSOE Socialist party leader Pedro Sánchez becoming prime minister. Rajoy refused to resign despite pleas from Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera to go before the vote succeeded.