Updated 22 July: The People’s Party – Partido Popular – has a new leader to go into opposition against the socialist PSOE Government, itself under new Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez. Mariano Rajoy’s deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría was expected by some to take over, becoming the first woman to lead a major political party in Spain, but in the event the moderate politician won 42% of the vote for the succession compared with 57.2% gained by the more right-wing Pablo Casado. Perhaps this reflects a genuine shift to the right, or perhaps Sáenz de Santamaría was too closely associated in people’s minds with Rajoy, and therefore with his increasingly frowned on failure to get to grips with the PP’s corruption scandals.
How Casado will fare with the public in the next general election which must come within the next year and a half or so is debatable. Obviously the PP will hope they have a winner, and no doubt much will depend on how Sánchez and his minority Government perform between now and then, but Casado himself will have to deal with allegations that he has been less than accurate about his claimed academic qualifications. In this respect he is in a similar situation to that of Cristina Cifuentes, another PP politician who was president of the Madrid Community and herself expected to be a candidate to replace Rajoy, but who resigned earlier this year over the exposure of a discredited claim to have a Master’s Degree.
Casado will also have to deal with the problem posed to his party by the relatively new centre-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) led by Albert Rivera which has performed increasingly strongly over recent years and could mop up the support of those inclined more to rightwing policies than the centrist position held by Sáenz de Santamaría. The next year or so will be an interesting one in Spanish politics with the new generation of leaders, all of them “young” – the PSOE’s Sánchez is the oldest at 46, with Casado and Rivera 37 and 38 respectively. And it will be a real case of whether to rob Peter to pay Paul – or vice versa – or maybe even Albert, in the next national election.
Updated 1 June: And it is over. The Spanish Parliament has this morning passed the motion that has brought down Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the first Spanish PM to be ousted by a no-confidence vote. Rajoy will now be replaced by the leader of the Socialist PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, who doesn’t have a seat in Parliament after resigning a couple of years ago when his own party ousted him. He won the leadership of the Party again last year, however, and there is nothing in the Spanish Constitution requiring the President of the Government, which is how Spain denotes its Prime Minister, actually to be a sitting Member of Parliament to be head of the Government.
Despite knowing the vote was likely to go against him after the Basque National Party said yesterday it would support the no-confidence motion, and despite calls for him to step down to buy his party time to find another leader and weather the storm for at least a couple of months, Rajoy clung to his office only to lose it this morning. The vote was 180-169 in favour with one abstention. The Socialists are now in Government, and Pedro Sánchez is Prime Minister. He comes into power with a lot of problems facing him, and a promise to take Spain back to the polls in a reasonable period of time, perhaps just months. Finally, corruption has cost Spain its Government.
Original post 31 May: Spanish elections loom as a vote of no confidence in Mariano Rajoy’s minority Partido Popular Government looks set to succeed tomorrow afternoon. The vote was called by the socialist PSOE after the PP, along with its treasurer and several businessmen, was condemned by the Courts for involvement in the long-running Caso Gürtel, a corruption case which has been under investigation for the past nine years and which has now ruled that the Party received kickbacks for contracts and ran a slushfund for the benefit of various businessmen, high-level Party functionaries, and the Party itself, hiding the evidence in a black book accounting system. Although many have found it unsurprising that individuals have been found guilty, it is the first time in Spanish history that a political Party has been condemned by direct Court judgment even though it was not actually a defendant in the case.
Rajoy might reasonably have expected to survive tomorrow’s vote if the left-wing PSOE and centre-right Ciudadanos failed to agree on how to proceed after a successful vote – their political stances are so different that neither could easily countenance the other’s proposals for the future – but now the Basque Nationalist Party has said it will join the PSOE and bring Rajoy down in any case. If this does indeed happen tomorrow, then it could be all over for this minority Government.
There are several possibilities which should become clearer over the next twelve or so hours. If Rajoy were to resign before the vote the PP would remain in power, albeit as a minority Government, until a new leader were found – and if the Party failed to find a new leader within two months there would have to be fresh elections at that point. If he does not resign, however, and loses tomorrow’s vote, the PSOE will become the Government, and they have already promised fresh elections within a few months.
Whatever happens, this brings Spain back almost to where it was a couple of years ago when King Felipe had weeks of discussions with various party leaders to try to find one who was actually able to form a government. On that occasion, it was Ciudadanos who supported the PP to form the present Government, a support that one could easily see lacking this time round. After the last week’s chaos in Italy, which only this afternoon appears to have been resolved with agreement finally reached after all for a new Finance Minister allowing a 5 Star/Lega coalition Government, southern-European uncertainty has now again switched to Spain.