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Spanish PM Rajoy wins parliamentary vote, ending 10 months of political​ gridlock

Mariano Rajoy will serve a second term as prime minister, although it will be at the head of a minority government. Rajoy won a confidence vote thanks to the opposition Socialist Party's decision to abstain.​

Spain's conservative acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won a crucial parliamentary confidence vote on Saturday, granting him a second term as prime minister and installing Spain's first fully functioning government in 10 months.

Rajoy secured enough votes after the opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) had decided to abstain. A total of 170 lawmakers voted for him, 111 against and 68 abstained.

The Prime Minister told reporters after the vote that he was happy but there remained "lots of work to do." He added that he would endeavor to "seek agreements and common ground with everyone."

Rajoy's People's Party (PP) will lead a minority conservative government. However, with only 137 seats in a 350-seat government, he will lead a ruling party with the weakest parliamentary support since democracy was restored in Spain following the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975.

Rajoy will also have to work to gain the public's trust. Ahead of Saturday's vote, thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators marched to the presidential palace, protesting the deep spending cuts during Rajoy's first term and shouting "They don't represent us."

Displeasure with the PP, as well as PSOE, have seen upstart parties such as Podemos gain millions of votes and upset Spain's two-party system.

Third vote's a charm

Saturday's vote draws a line under two inconclusive elections in December and June. In both, the PP won the most votes but was stripped of its majority. 

A renowned political survivor, Rajoy resisted calls to step down from the helm and allow a new PP leader to attempt to form a coalition after a series of fruitless attempts.

Rajoy was first elected in 2011, amid Spain's severe recession. The prime minister acted swiftly, slashing public spending to tackle the country's rising deficit. However, while Spain's economy later recovered, it has not granted Rajoy the pleasure of retaining a majority government.

Spain's upcoming budget deficit bill

A PP minority government means that Rajoy will struggle to pass legislation and find himself forced to negotiate every bill. First on his list, after 10 months of political impasse, will be Spain's 2017 budget.

At least 5 billion euros ($5.5 billion) in spending cuts is anticipated to reduce the deficit. While he can count on support from the liberal Ciudadanos, the PSOE and anti-austerity Podemos party have vowed to fight his policies and not approve his budgets.

Earlier this week, Rajoy struck a more conciliatory tone with the opposition, offering to work closely in passing new bills for pension and education reform. He has also opened the door to dialogue with the regional government in the northeastern Catalonia region, which is seeking independence from Spain.

Socialists in crisis

Just hours before Saturday's vote, Spain's former Socialist chief Pedro Sanchez announced he was quitting parliament. During an emotional press conference, Sanchez told reporters, "I am appearing here in this press room to announce my resignation as MP." The 44-year-old emphasized during a tearful declaration "how painful the decision was."

Ex-Chef der spanischen Sozialisten legt Abgeordnetenmandat nieder (Reuters/S. Vera)

Former Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez makes a tearful resignation

"I completely disagree with the decision to enable Mariano Rajoy to govern," Sanchez added. "From Monday onwards I'm going to get into my car and go all over Spain to listen to those that are not being listened to."

Sanchez was ousted from the party after bitter in-fighting on whether to allow Rajoy to rule after months of political paralysis.

The PP hopes that with its main opposition in crisis and in a rush to rebuild, it will have a somewhat easier experience passing legislation. The Socialists will also be desperate to avoid an early election, granting Rajoy time to lead.

dm/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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