Spain’s government hanging by a thread as corruption crisis unfolds

Mariano Rajoy was struggling to hold Spain’s fragile government together as he faced calls for snap elections and the potential loss of a key coalition partner after he was accused of triggering “social alarm” over a corruption scandal.

Rocked by Thursday’s conviction of his Popular Party’s (PP) former treasurer for money laundering, Mr Rajoy was told by the opposition that it would be tabling a no-confidence motion in the prime minister.

Meanwhile, Ciudadanos, the liberal party whose backing is crucial to the conservative PP in Spain’s hung parliament, issued Mr Rajoy with an ultimatum to call a snap general election or face a separate motion forcing him to do so.

Spain was plunged into crisis a day after Luis Bárcenas, the PP’s former treasurer, was finally convicted alongside other senior members of the PP for offences including falsifying accounts, influence-peddling and tax crimes. They were sentenced to a combined 351 years behind bars.

The case, which relates to the use of a slush fund by the Conservatives in the 1990s and early 2000s to illegally finance campaigns, has plagued Mr Rajoy since he came to power in 2011. He has always denied wrongdoing.

Mr Rajoy became the first sitting prime minister in Spain to give evidence in a trial when he was called as a witness in the case last year, prompting calls for him to resign.

After flurry of political activity on Friday, Mr Rajoy must now choose between exposing himself to a no-confidence motion that could bring down his government and taking the country into another election with memories still fresh of how Spain spent almost all of 2016 without an effective government after the PP won two general elections while falling well short of an overall majority on both occasions.

Pedro Sánchez, the opposition socialist leader, said on Friday he was calling for the no-confidence motion “to recover the dignity of our democracy, today under question because of the party that rules our country”.

Mr Sánchez, who would be the candidate to automatically replace Mr Rajoy if the current prime minister were to lose the confidence vote, said the conservative leader was to blame for “social alarm” over the result of the corruption trial in which 29 people were convicted and the PP itself found guilty of benefitting from kickbacks.

The socialists would be supported in the motion by the third-biggest party in parliament, the anti-austerity Podemos group. Mr Sánchez said a government led by him would call elections, although he did not state how quickly that would occur.

Speaking for Ciudadanos, the fourth-largest party, secretary general José Manuel Villegas told reporters that “PP corruption had liquidated the legislature”.

“Mr Rajoy cannot hide”, Mr Villegas added, explaining that Ciudadanos would not support Mr Sánchez’s motion of no-confidence, but would call their own parliamentary vote to force the PP government to call elections.

However, the no confidence motion may succeed with the support of leftist party Podemos and a number of MPs from minority parties, like Basque and Catalan separatists who oppose Mr Rajoy’s government.

At a press conference in his prime-ministerial residence Mr Rajoy said he would not call a snap election. Mr Rajoy said he planned to serve out his four-year term “as long as it remains in my power”.

“The no-confidence motion goes against the political stability that our country needs and it goes against the economic recovery. It is bad for Spain,” Mr Rajoy said.

The Telegraph | May 25, 2018
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/25/spains-government-hanging-thread-corruption-crisis-unfolds/