Confidence vote set to topple government, as PSOE prepares for power

Pedro Sanchez

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez needs an absolute majority of 176 votes to become Spain's new prime minister, and information from various parties suggested he had now secured 180.

He is the first Spanish prime minister to lose such a vote since Spain transitioned to democracy in 1977.

Under a Spanish law that prevents a power vacuum, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who tabled the no-confidence motion, would immediately become the new leader of the 19-country eurozone's No. 4 economy and a prominent European Union leader at a time when the bloc faces numerous challenges.

"Our "Yes" to Sanchez is a "No" to Rajoy", is how Mr Joan Tarda of the Catalan pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya put it in Parliament.

Rajoy's likely removal follows corruption convictions last week involving former members of his conservative Popular Party.

Sanchez vowed to tackle "all the challenges which the country faces with humility". He took the oath just a day after ousting his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, through a vote of no-confidence that arose out of a corruption scandal.

Sanchez said Thursday that one of the priorities of his government would be "rebuilding bridges" with the country's regions and "establishing the foundations that allow us to normalize relations and start a dialogue between the Spanish government and the new government in Catalonia".

Sanchez, Spain's 46-year-old opposition leader, instigated the no-confidence motion last week after a court confirmed that a vast system of bribes given to former PP officials in exchange for lucrative public contracts was implemented between 1999-2005. More damagingly for Rajoy, the judges questioned the prime minister's credibility when he said in court that he was unaware of the fraudulent accounting.

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Sanchez will lead a minority government and will need the support of both the far-left Podemos (We Can) party and the backing of a motley crew of regional parties and Catalan secessionists to get anything done in government.

Madrid fired Catalonia's government and took control of the running of the region after an illegal and unsuccessful declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament in October.

Rajoy told lawmakers on Friday: "It has been a honor to leave Spain better than I found it. Thank you to all Spaniards and good luck". But the hard-left party seems unlikely to gain major influence over Sanchez, who is keen to win back centrist voters.

The prime minister wasn't in the Congress of Deputies on Friday morning when the debate resumed on the motion ahead of a final vote.

The Socialist leader won the support of six other parties to remove Rajoy over a massive corruption scandal.

Less than two years ago, the man who will become Spain's new prime minister was staring at the premature end of an unremarkable political career.

A political survivor and adroit parliamentarian, Mr Rajoy had apparently cleared the biggest hurdle facing his minority government when he passed a national budget recently and said he was confident he would to see out the remaining two years of his term.

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