Mariano Rajoy is facing defeat in a crunch vote to oust him as prime minister of Spain as his party looks likely to lose its grip on power after being swept up in a corruption scandal.
The prime minister’s rule is almost certain to end on Friday as opposition parties in the Spanish parliament promised to back a motion of no confidence after senior former ruling party officials were jailed in connection with a corruption scandal.
Pedro Sánchez, leader of the main opposition socialist party, will become prime minister in place of Mr Rajoy when, as is expected, an absolute majority in Spain’s Congress supports the motion in a vote on Friday afternoon.
The dramatic demise of Mr Rajoy’s conservative government creates fresh uncertainty within the eurozone’s southern reaches where Italy has been grappling with its own political crisis. A last-ditch attempt to form a government in Italy appeared to offer an answer to the impasse late on Thursday night.
There was speculation that Mr Rajoy could opt to resign before Friday’s vote in Congress, in which case his People’s Party (PP) government would remain in power as an interim administration. But the PP secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, said on Thursday evening that Mr Rajoy would not stand down “as it would not benefit the interests of Spain”.
Spanish politics | The four main parties
While Mr Sánchez seems certain to win the motion, it will be hard for the socialists to govern effectively with only 84 members in the 350-strong lower house. Mr Sánchez has said he plans to call elections before the legislature expires in 2020, but has so far refused to set a date.
The socialists triggered the motion after a court in Madrid last week sentenced several former PP officials, including the party’s onetime treasurer, to hefty jail sentences in a largescale corruption trial. In their verdict, the judges concluded that the PP had run a slush fund of kickbacks from companies “parallel to its official financial structure” from its foundation in 1989 up to 2005, the last year under investigation in the case.
Mr Rajoy was called as a witness in the trial, but his testimony that the PP had not used off-the-books accounting was described in the judges’ ruling as “not credible”.
Mr Sánchez urged Mr Rajoy to resign for reasons of “political hygiene”.
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Mr Rajoy responded that he had personally done nothing wrong, and warned the assembled politicians about backing a “Frankenstein government”, in reference to the socialists needing support from the Left-wing Podemos, pro-independence Catalan parties and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), among others, to reach a majority.
Mr Sánchez promised to maintain financial stability and that his government would respect the state budget for 2018, approved only last week. On the issue of the Catalan government’s bid for independence, the socialist leader promised to enter dialogue to reach agreements “within constitutional bounds”.