What next for Spain after conservative Prime Minister ousted in vote of no-confidence?
by Jamie Morse
Mariano Rajoy has been ousted from his post as Prime Minister following a no-confidence vote in the Spanish Parliament. The process of removing Mr. Rajoy, 63, began following the culmination of an institutional corruption scandal that had blighted his ruling People’s Party for the best part of a decade. The scandal implicated many party members in acts of bribery and money laundering, leading to former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas being jailed for 37 years.
Self praise and a legacy of discontent
In his final speech, Rajoy credited his record as having saved Spain from the European debt crisis, which was considered the main reason behind his elevation to the premiership in 2011.
Rajoy’s austerity measures – tax rises, abolition of rent assistance for young people, and the freezing of public workers’ salaries – proved unpopular and lead to public protests in the final year of his premiership despite helping Spain’s economy to bounce back from chaos.
Rajoy came under further fire for his government’s failure to address Spain’s painfully high youth unemployment rate which, currently at 35%, is the second highest in Europe (only topped by Greece).
International criticism following Catalonia’s attempt at independence
Rajoy’s government encountered international scrutiny in 2017 following his government’s reaction to the Catalan Independence Referendum which, although outlawed beforehand by Rajoy, went ahead with a substantial 92% vote in favour of independence.
Critics of Rajoy say that his actions following the referendum – dissolving the regional Catalan parliament, refusing Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s requests to negotiate, and the defence of police officers abusing their power to assault Catalan voters – made the situation worse and only further fuelled the Catalan public’s desire for independence from Spain.
A replacement inheriting shaky Spanish ground
Mr. Rajoy is replaced by political opponent Pedro Sánchez, 46, who filed the no-confidence motion against him.
Sánchez’s Socialist Party take charge of a fragile government which, with only 80 seats in congress (less than 15% of total seats), is the smallest governing party in modern Spanish history. The Socialist Party are expected to rely on a coalition of smaller parties, including Basque and Catalan Nationalists.
Since taking charge, Mr. Sánchez has already overseen the end of Spanish direct rule in Catalonia, returning to the regional parliament the powers which Mr. Rajoy removed following the referendum result.
Mr. Sánchez has styled his government as being anti-corruption and anti-austerity, opening up the possibility of Socialist Party figures being indicted on charges relating to a corruption case in Andalucía.
For many in Spain, a snap election is inevitable, with the Socialist party needing a mandate and currently sitting neck and neck with the centrist Citizens party in recent polls.