Spain finally has a govt as Rajoy voted back to power

Spain's parliament voted conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy back into power Saturday, ending a rollercoaster, 10-month political crisis despite bitter opposition and lingering divisions.

Spain finally has a govt as Rajoy voted back to power
Rajoy greets people outside parliament after winning the vote. Photo: AFP

One hundred and seventy lawmakers voted for Rajoy, 111 against, and 68 abstained – all Socialist MPs, in line with the party's reluctant decision to let its arch-rival govern rather than trigger a third round of elections in the poll-weary country.

Rajoy pledged to plough on with economic policies deeply unpopular with the opposition which blames austerity measures taken in his first term for rising inequality.

“Do no expect me to… damage economic recovery and job creation,” the 61-year-old told lawmakers in a tense pre-vote session, referring to Spain's return to growth under his watch following an economic downturn.   

“There is no sense in getting rid of all reforms.”

'They don't represent us'

The Socialists' decision to abstain drew stinging criticism from its rivals including far-left Podemos, and divided the party so seriously that Socialist chief Pedro Sanchez was ousted earlier this month.

Hours before the vote, Sanchez himself gave a tearful statement to the media, announcing he was quitting as a lawmaker so he would not have to abstain and allow his staunch rival Rajoy to govern.

Hundreds of protesters gathered near parliament amid a heavy police presence, unhappy about corruption and sweeping spending cuts during Rajoy's first term, shouting: “They don't represent us.”

“It's going to be the same government, or similar, (as in) the past four years, which was disastrous for Spain,” said Carmen Lopez, a 65-year-old retired computer technician.

In the pre-vote session, party leaders strongly criticised Rajoy and one another – just as they have done for the past 10 months as the country went through two inconclusive elections.

This unstable period saw Spain go from jubilation after polls last December that ended the two-party hold on power as millions voted for two upstart parties – to disillusion following polls in June that returned inconclusive results once again.

Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) won both elections but without enough parliamentary seats to govern alone. As no political grouping was able to agree on a viable coalition, Spain looked set for more elections.

That changed last weekend when the Socialists opted to abstain in Saturday's confidence vote after weeks of in-fighting that saw Sanchez ousted.

'Turbulent' term

Rajoy's party will only have 137 out of 350 seats in parliament and will face huge opposition, forcing him to negotiate every bill.  

He originally came to power in 2011 with an absolute majority.  

“You are in the clear minority and under tight surveillance of this lower house. The Socialist party will devote itself to monitoring your every step,” Antonio Hernando, the Socialists' parliamentary spokesman, told Rajoy.

Among Rajoy's priorities will be the 2017 budget, which may need at least five billion euros ($5.5 billion) in spending cuts to reduce the deficit in the face of EU pressure.

But further cuts are likely to face stiff opposition both in parliament and on the street.

He will also face rising separatist sentiment in the northeastern Catalonia region.

After the vote, Rajoy sought to strike a conciliatory tone.

“If we all make an effort, we can reach agreements and we have to try and turn this difficult and complex situation into an opportunity,” he told reporters.

Political analyst Pablo Simon said his term in office would be the most “turbulent” ever in Spain and could prompt Rajoy to call early elections if he faces gridlock in parliament.

But he predicted it would not be as difficult for Rajoy as some have anticipated.

The Socialists will need time to regroup and will not want early elections, knowing they would fare badly after their very public breakdown, he said.  

The PP also has a majority in the senate, and may be able to form pacts with smaller parties in the lower house to see laws through, Simon added.

By Marianne Barriaux / AFP

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What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.