Mariano Rajoy ousted as Spanish Prime Minister after vote of no-confidence
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been forced out of office after a no-confidence vote in parliament, called after his party was implemented in a corruption scandal.
Making Spanish political history by becoming the first PM to be removed from office in this way, he will be replaced by Pedro Sánchez, the leader of Spain’s opposition socialist PSOE party, which filed the motion to unseat him.
Sánchez's movement won the support of 180 MPs, four more than needed in the 350-seat parliament, with one abstention and 169 MPs opposing it.
Shortly before the vote, Rajoy told parliament: "It has been an honour to be the prime minister of Spain. It has been an honour to leave a better Spain than the one I found. I hope that my successor will be able to say the same when his time comes."
In addition, he claimed he believed he had done his duty as a leader, stating: “My thanks to the Spanish people for lending me their support and understanding. And good luck to everyone for the good of Spain.”
His rival, Sanchez had claimed his party was "going to sign a new page in the history of democracy in our country" before the vote.
Spanish politician Rajoy was PM for almost seven years, having assumed office in 2011. The vote to dismiss him was called after the High Court in Madrid convicted Luis Bárcenas, his once close ally, of fraud and money laundering, slapping him with a 33-year jail sentence and $51 million fine.
The People’s party (PP) was also fined $280,000 after judges found that it had benefited from the kickbacks-for-contracts scheme, known as the Gürtel case.
Rajoy's fate was sealed on Thursday after the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) joined the anti-austerity Podemos Party and the two biggest Catalan pro-independence parties in backing the motion, with the PNV claiming they had been reluctant to do so, but had to for ethical and political reasons.
"This isn’t simple; this isn’t easy," said the PNV spokesperson Aitor Esteban. "But we have to do it," adding that the court verdict had marked "a before and an after".
Former PM Rajoy had fiercely defended his party in a Thursday morning debate, accusing the PSOE of opportunism and claiming it had overlooked its own many political scandals.
"With what moral authority are you speaking? Are you perhaps Mother Teresa of Calcutta?" he asked. "There have been corrupt people in the PP, but the PP is not a corrupt party."
After fighting for his place, he reportedly went for an eight-hour lunch in a Madrid restaurant and did not return to parliament the next day.
His replacement Sánchez has had a fast rise to prominence, being largely unknown before he emerged to win the Spanish Socialist party premiership in 2014. After suffering two election defeats, in 2015 and 2016, he resigned but soon returned months later to win the Socialist primary.
He has promised to call an election after spending a few months focusing on social and educational reforms, but it has been speculated that his minority party - which commands less than a quarter of seats in Congress - will be unable to make major changes in the time they have.