The general secretary of Spain’s main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sánchez, announced on Friday that he wants to form a transitional government that would call a general election “as soon as possible,” if the no-confidence motion that the party filed on Friday against Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy prospers.
The move comes a day after Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, entered a judgment in the main trial of Gürtel, a sweeping kickbacks-for-contracts case affecting the governing Popular Party (PP).
The time has come for everyone to accept responsibility
In the ruling, the court fined the PP for benefiting from the scheme, which ran between 1999 and 2006, and sentenced a former treasurer to 33 years in prison. The judgment also found solid evidence of the existence of a party slush fund.
Sánchez announced on Friday his intention to be voted in as Spain’s prime minister in the no-confidence vote in order to form a PSOE government that would address three tasks: “Return to political and institutional normality, regenerate democratic life, and set in motion a social agenda that would attend to urgent social issues.”
Sánchez did not announce the time scale for calling elections, and said he was open to being voted in with the support of all parties represented in Congress, including those who are pro-Catalan independence. But he warned these parties that his government “will guarantee and ensure that the Spanish Constitution is complied with,” as well as ensuring that “national sovereignty and territorial integrity” is maintained.
The no-confidence vote is justified, Sánchez added, to “recover the dignity of our democracy, which today is being questioned by the party that is governing in the principal institutions.”
Senior Socialist officials met on Friday morning to discuss the decision to use the most serious existing parliamentary tool against Rajoy. “The time has come for everyone to accept responsibility,” said one high-ranking PSOE official.
The no-confidence motion is supported by Unidos Podemos, the coalition of the anti-austerity Podemos and the United Left federation, but their joint seats in Congress are not enough to ensure approval.
Ciudadanos is asking Rajoy to call new elections in the coming weeks (see box below), but the secretary general of Ciudadanos, Jose Manuel Villegas, said on Friday that the party would not support the vote of no-confidence. “The solution is not the opportunism of Sánchez,” he told reporters. “It seems he wants to get to La Moncloa [prime ministerial palace] by any means.”
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said the ruling would mark “a before and an after” in relations between both parties
Fallout from Gürtel
No Socialist leader had made a single public statement on Thursday to comment on the Gürtel ruling, but PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez contacted senior party members throughout the day, and several of them requested an extraordinary plenary session of the party’s executive committee for today.
The PSOE considers the PP’s response to the ruling “unacceptable.” In a statement, the ruling party played down its importance, noting that “at no time was the PP prosecuted. We’re talking about a civil liability, which is known in legal terms as ‘participant for profit,’ and which necessarily entails ignorance of the facts.”
By contrast, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias encouraged Sánchez to table a no-confidence motion against Rajoy, promising to back such a move. And Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, whose support is crucial to Rajoy’s minority government, said that the ruling would mark “a before and an after” in relations between both parties.
The PSOE was facing a difficult decision, given that it backs the government in its handling of the Catalan independence crisis, particularly on the issue of Article 155, which granted Madrid emergency powers over the region’s affairs after separatists declared unilateral independence in October of last year. This constitutional provision remains in place even though a new Catalan premier has emerged, and it is unclear what the next steps will be.
On the other hand, the PSOE had recently tabled a no-confidence motion against Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes, who ultimately resigned over an academic scandal. Socialist officials were faced with the dilemma that if Cifuentes’ questionable resume was reason enough for a no-confidence vote, so should a court ruling finding the PP guilty of profiting from Gürtel.
No elections while a no-confidence vote is pending
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will not be able to call a general election, as the Ciudadanos party is calling on him to do, while the no-confidence vote called by the Socialist Party (PSOE) on Friday morning is in motion.
Article 115.2 of the Spanish Constitution states that “the proposal of dissolution cannot be presented while a no-confidence vote is being processed.” Parliamentary sources stated on Friday that the PSOE no-confidence vote is indeed “being processed” after its presentation on Friday.
For Rajoy to call elections, the motion would have to be rejected by the speaker’s committee in Congress, or withdrawn by Sánchez himself.