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Political woes keep Spain’s Rajoy at home during Champions League final

Javier Soriano, AFP | Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (C) at the 2017 Champion’s League final match between Juventus and Real Madrid, which took place in Cardiff, South Wales.

Devoted Real Madrid fan Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish primer minister, has cancelled his trip to the Champions League final to deal with a roiling political crisis, his staff said on Friday.


Rajoy was at the last three Champions League finals his team won in 2014, 2016 and 2017, but will not now be travelling to Kiev on Saturday to watch Real take on Liverpool.

Spanish opposition parties launched a fierce campaign Friday to end the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy after courts ruled that his Popular Party profited from a large kickbacks-for-contracts scheme.

The Socialist opposition announced a vote of no confidence against the prime minister with the backing of anti-establishment and left-wing parties, while the pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens)   which had supported the conservative minority government until now   urged Rajoy to call a fresh election.

But Rajoy ruled out stepping down, saying he was committed to remaining in power until the end of his term, in 2020.

“All this is nonsense,” the 63-year old conservative politician told reporters in a televised press conference. He called the opposition’s move “opportunist,” and said the no-confidence vote “goes against the stability in Spain, damages the economic recovery, introduces uncertainty and goes against the interests of all citizens.”

The moves followed the conviction of 29 businesspeople and former Popular Party officials for crimes including fraud, tax evasion and money laundering over the 1999-2005 illegal scheme that, according to Thursday’s court decision, helped fund the ruling party.

The ruling triggered “social indignation” that has put Spain “in a situation of an extreme institutional crisis,” Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez said Friday.

“There is only one person responsible for the political disaffection,” he told reporters. “That person is called Mariano Rajoy.”

Parliamentary rules in Spain require a proposal of an alternative prime minister in a no-confidence vote.

Sanchez said he will call elections if he wins the vote. Meanwhile, the popular center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party urged Rajoy to call elections or threatened to push for a separate no confidence vote.

“We need a clean and strong government to confront the separatist defiance (in Catalonia),” its leader, Albert Rivera, tweeted.

No date has been set for the vote, but it could be as early as next week according to parliamentary rules. The Socialists will need at least 176 of the 350 votes in the national congress, where they only control 84 seats as opposed to 136 held by the Popular Party.

Although the Socialists have enlisted the backing of 71 leftwing and anti-establishment lawmakers, they would need the 32 extra votes of the pro-business Ciudadanos, which is reluctant to side with the left-wing or the Catalan separatists.

A successful motion of no confidence is unlikely at this stage, said Antonio Barroso, an analyst with the London-based Teneo Intelligence consultancy firm. “Opposition parties will likely engage in a blame game rather than effectively coordinate to get rid of Rajoy,” he said.

Friday’s political jockeying comes after a roller-coaster ride this week for Rajoy’s party, whose win on Wednesday of a key approval for the 2018 national budget had secured, in theory, enough breathing space for him to survive until the end of the term, in 2020.

But the setback came less than 24 hours later in the form of a 1,687-page ruling on the so-called Gurtel case, considered one of the gravest corruption episodes in Spain’s modern history.

The judges issued prison sentences totaling 351 years and a 245,000-euro fine (US$ 287,000) for the conservative party in power, which the ruling describes as a “profit-seeking participant” in the scheme.

The verdict also considered that a network involving companies and party officials was established to arrange travel and organize events for PP in exchange for public contracts.

In some of the most damaging parts of the ruling, the judges said that PP ran a slush fund at least until 2008 and questioned the credibility of Rajoy when he denied knowing that the scheme was in place during a court hearing where the prime minister testified as a witness.

The convictions immediately triggered turmoil for Rajoy, who is combating separatist defiance in Catalonia and has for years defended his party against dozens of corruption allegations. Spain’s leading El Pais newspaper opened its Friday editorial calling Rajoy’s cabinet a “zombie government.”

The ruling party has said it will appeal the part of the verdict that found it was a profit-seeking participant in the scheme.

Rajoy, who has said he wants to run for a third term as prime minister after 2020, repeated on Friday that nobody in the current administration or in the party’s leadership was aware of any wrongdoing, and that the court ruling only fines his party without handing any criminal charges.

Spanish stocks plummeted on Friday as the political crisis unfolded, with the benchmark Ibex 35 index losing around 2 percent of its value by mid-afternoon.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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