Rajoy’s government on the line as Socialists lead an MPs’ vote of no confidence

A photomontage of Sánchez (left) and Rajoy in parliament on Thursday.
A photomontage of Sánchez (left) and Rajoy in parliament on Thursday. / EFE
  • Following last week’s Gürtel case corruption sentence, Pedro Sánchez seized his chance to oust the PM and, with PNV support secured, only Rajoy’s resignation would stop the move succeeding

Spain is on the verge of a change of government if a no-confidence vote among MPs planned for today (Friday, 1 June) succeeds as expected in toppling the ruling Partido Popular party (PP) and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The resignation of Mariano Rajoy before the vote was the only option remaining to stop PSOE Socialist party leader Pedro Sánchez becoming prime minister. Up to the last minute Rajoy was refusing to resign despite pleas from Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera to go before the vote succeeded.

The ‘express’ no-confidence debate had been called by the PSOE in response to last week’s judgments against the PPand several former top members in the massive Gürtel corruption trial. Those found guilty were sentenced to a total of 351 in prison, the PPwas 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 PNVBasque 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 seemingly heading for defeat and the country a new prime minister on Friday unless he stepped down in the meantime in order to prevent the vote being carried out.