Spanish PM under fire from opposition, allies


Mariano Rajoy

MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday faced a no-confidence motion called by the Socialists and lost the support of his centrist allies after his Popular Party was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a mega graft trial.

Spain’s biggest opposition party, the Socialists, filed the motion seeking Rajoy’s ouster in the 350-seat lower house of parliament on Friday morning.

Rajoy was scheduled to address the press at 2.00pm.

To succeed, the motion will need the support of an absolute majority of 176 lawmakers, a difficult task as opposition parties are deeply divided.

The Socialists would need the support of the far-left Podemos party, which has already called a no-confidence vote, as well as that of several tiny regional parties, including Catalan separatist formations which have clashed with Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez in recent months over their independence drive.

Ciudadanos, which has overtaken the Popular Party (PP) in first place in some recent polls thanks to its hardline on catalan separatism, immediately said it would oppose the no-confidence motion and instead demanded snap polls.

“The government’s sentence for corruption has liquidated the legislature,” Ciudadanos head Albert Rivera said in a twitter message.

“We need a clean and strong government to confront the separatist challenge. Either Rajoy calls elections or parliament will do it.”

Analysts said Ciudadanos has no reason to support a no-confidence motion that could lead to an alternative left-wing government headed by the Socialists.

“The motion presented by Sanchez, with what we imagine is the support of populists and separatists, is not Ciudadanos’ motion. We will oppose it,” said the party’s secretary general, Jose Manuel Villegas.

Spain’s National Court said Thursday it had uncovered a vast system of bribes given to former PP officials in exchange for lucrative public contracts between 1999 and 2005 in various regions including Madrid.

The court sentenced 29 people in jail for a total of 351 years for corruption, embezzlement and money laundering in the so-called Gurtel trial, named after the code name of the police investigation.

The PP itself was not on trial for direct involvement in the scheme but was found to have benefited from funds obtained illegally.

It is the first time that a ruling party in Spain has been found guilty in court and the PP was ordered to pay back 245,000 euros (US$290,000).

“Devastating sentence,” headlined Catalan daily newspaper El Periodico on Friday while top-selling El Pais said in an editorial that “there is no precedent in democratic Spain for such a blow”.

The court ruling “badly affects the credibility of a party that has ruled this country between 1996 and 2004 and again from 2011.” – AFP