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Socialist leader takes control as Spanish government falls

Spanish socialist leader Pedro Sanchez has won the vote to replace Mariano Rajoy as prime minister. Picture by Francisco Seco, Associated Press
Aritz Parra

SOCIALIST party leader Pedro Sanchez is set to become the new prime minister of Spain after a no-confidence vote in parliament unseated Mariano Rajoy's conservative government.

Mr Sanchez, the leader of the largest opposition party, could be sworn in as early as tomorrow, with Cabinet appointments taking place next week.

To prevent a power vacuum after a no-confidence motion, Spanish law makes the motion's author - in this case, Mr Sanchez - the country's new leader as soon as the king swears him in.

The end of Mr Rajoy's six-year reign as PM was the first removal of a serving leader by the parliament in Madrid in four decades of democracy.

Mr Rajoy shook hands with Mr Sanchez after the result was announced.

Spain's ousted prime minister Mariano Rajoy, right, shakes hands with socialist leader Pedro Sanchez after a motion of no confidence vote at the Spanish parliament. Picture by Pierre Phillipe Marcou, Pool Photo via Associated Press

The reputation of Mr Rajoy's Popular Party was badly damaged by a court verdict last week which identified it as a beneficiary of a large kickbacks-for-contracts scheme.

Mr Sanchez seized his opportunity and managed to muster enough support from smaller parties to send him to La Moncloa palace, the seat of government in Madrid.

The 46-year-old takes the helm of the 19-country eurozone's fourth-largest economy at a time when the European Union faces numerous challenges, including the UK's departure from the bloc and migrants continuing to enter the continent from North Africa.

Mr Sanchez and his party are staunch supporters of the EU and the continent's shared currency.

The Madrid stock exchange was up nearly 1.6% after Mr Sanchez won the vote, earning a standing ovation from his party's MPs.

Mr Sanchez, who will be Spain's seventh prime minister since the country's return to democracy in the late 1970s, arrives in power after a spectacular turnaround in his political fortunes.

He was ousted by his own party's heavyweights in 2016 over back-to-back losses in general elections, and after he tried to block Mr Rajoy's bid to form a government.

The former economics professor regained the Socialists' leadership last year.

The incoming prime minister has outlined that his priorities will be social issues before calling elections, though he has not indicated when there might be a vote.

He faces a tough time, however, catering to demands from small nationalist parties whose votes he captured in the no-confidence motion.

The support of leftist and nationalist parties for ousting Mr Rajoy will not necessarily lead to parliamentary backing for Mr Sanchez's government and could produce a political stalemate.

Meanwhile, Spain's centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens') party has vowed fierce opposition to Mr Sanchez, and called for an early general election.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said the change of government "is not good news for Spain".

Referring to Mariano Rajoy's outgoing government, Mr Rivera told reporters that "we had to censure this government, but not in this way".

After Mr Sanchez won the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties during the parliamentary vote, Mr Rivera said his party would be "very attentive to the concessions" that are made.

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