Rajoy Loses Confidence Vote as Spain’s Political Impasse Endures

  • Acting prime minister loses 180-170 as Socialists veto his bid
  • Spain has two months to choose leader or new ballot triggered

Mariano Rajoy

Photographer: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

Caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy failed in his first attempt to end a political gridlock that has stretched for more than eight months, losing a confidence vote in the Spanish parliament.

Rajoy was defeated by 180 votes to 170 on Wednesday as his party’s traditional rivals, the Socialists, joined the anti-establishment group Podemos to block his candidacy. The acting premier was supported by the liberals of Ciudadanos and a lone lawmaker from the Canary Islands party. The chamber will vote again on Friday at about 8 p.m. in Madrid when a simple majority will suffice.

The 61-year-old candidate is trying to piece together the first administration since Spain’s traditional two-party system broke down with the emergence of Ciudadanos and Podemos at last December’s election. While the PP was the only group to increase its vote at a re-run in June, and has considerable common ground with the Socialists on policy, Rajoy is struggling to clinch enough support because of unresolved corruption allegations against his party.

“A third election would be very bad news for all Spaniards,” acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters after the vote. “I hope we can all look in the mirror in the coming days and think about our responsibilities.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez told Rajoy he doesn’t merit the backing of the legislature, portraying the candidate as a liar who turned a blind eye to corruption and ran the country in his own narrow interests. Sanchez said Rajoy has compromised the independence of the Spanish institutions and supported a party official that he knew was corrupt, while letting the country’s deficit run out of control, raising taxes, and cutting spending on public services.

In response, Rajoy joked that if he was that bad, it’s difficult to explain how he got almost 8 million votes in winning June’s election. As successive opponents attacked his record in government before a confidence vote tonight, Rajoy sat jotting down notes and sucking on a candy.

Christmas Election

The vehemence of Sanchez’s attack raises questions about whether there’s any room for compromise over the next two months before an unprecedented third election in a year is triggered. If Sanchez does stick to his guns, he’ll be running against an incumbent who’s grown stronger in recent months as unemployment fell to the lowest in six years.

“Given parties’ entrenched positions, a third round of elections is now the base case,” said Antonio Barroso, a London-base political analyst at Teneo Intelligence, who said that scenario has a 55 percent probability.

If the parties fail to reach a settlement by the end of October, the timings set out in Spanish election law mean the next election could fall on Dec. 25. A Christmas ballot would probably help the acting prime minister because PP voters have historically been more likely to turn out than supporters of other parties.

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