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New PM Pedro Sanchez vows to tackle corruption, 'modernise' Spain

Pierre-Philippe Marcou, AFP | Spanish Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez was sworn in as prime minister on Saturday, one day after ousting Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Spanish Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez was sworn in as prime minister on Saturday, a day after ousting Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote over a corruption scandal.


Sanchez, a 46-year-old economist with no government experience, took the oath of office at 11am (9am GMT) before King Felipe VI at Zarzuela Palace near the capital Madrid.

The Socialist leader must now name his cabinet in an official government journal before he can fully assume his functions.

Sanchez’s sudden rise to power comes after years of setbacks. After leading the Socialists to two crushing general election defeats in 2015 and 2016, Sanchez was forced to resign by the party apparatus. But he was re-elected party leader in 2017 and managed to oust Rajoy, a 63-year-old veteran politician who had been in power since 2011.

Sanchez filed a no-confidence motion against Rajoy on May 25, a day after a court found former officials of his conservative Popular Party guilty of running a slush fund.

Other opposition parties also lined up against Rajoy, who found himself abandoned by his allies, the centrist Ciudadanos and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).

The PNV had just helped Rajoy's government approve its 2018 budget in exchange for receiving €500 million ($584 million) in investments for the northern Basque region, which it governs.

An absolute majority of 180 lawmakers voted for the motion to loud applause and shouts of "Yes we can," even if Sanchez faces a tough road ahead as he will govern with an even smaller minority than Rajoy.

FRANCE 24's Sarah Morris reports on challenges ahead for new Spanish PM Sanchez

Unstable government

In his first comments after winning the no-confidence motion, Sanchez, a former basketball player, vowed to tackle "all the challenges that the country faces with humility".

Sanchez has said he would seek to build a consensus to try to weed out corruption. He also said he wanted to "transform and modernise" Spain, including improving job security, fighting inequality, providing a better life for the elderly and investing in public health care.

He signalled that he would break with Rajoy’s unbending commitment to reducing the national debt, pledging to tackle the “social emergencies” created by nearly six years of austerity.But a question remains over where he might find the money to pay for his Socialist Party's ambitions.

Like the other 18 member countries of the eurozone, Spain is locked into rules that keep a lid on spending and hold debt at sustainable levels. After the eurozone's recent financial crisis, any easing of those rules could spook markets.

"I'm aware of the responsibility and the complex political moment of our country," Sanchez said in brief comments to reporters after Friday’s vote.

He said he planned to call elections before the end of this parliamentary term in 2020 but didn't specify when, and he will probably want to make his mark first with some headline policies before the polls.

Sanchez will face a political minefield as he tries to steer legislation through parliament. The Socialists only have 84 seats in the 350-seat body, and his minority government is supported by a hodgepodge of disparate parties – including far-left Podemos, Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists – with diverging interests.

His allies in the no-confidence motion stressed their vote against Rajoy was not a blank cheque for Sanchez.

"Our 'Yes' to Sanchez is a 'No' to Rajoy," is how Joan Tarda, speaker of Catalan pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, put it in parliament.

Sanchez will only be able to implement policy initiatives "that allow him to obtain an easy majority" in parliament, said Fernando Vallespin, political scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Popular Party lawmaker Rafael Hernando said Sanchez would be entering the prime minister's office "through the back door" after failing to win 2015 and 2016 general elections.

Sanchez has already tied his hands by promising to respect Rajoy's 2018 budget, which includes generous concessions to the northern Basque region.

He has also said he wants to "build bridges" with Catalonia's new separatist government, headed by Quim Torra, which will take office on Saturday at the same time that Sanchez takes his oath of office.

The parties that supported Sanchez will make demands he will not meet, predicted Pedro Fernandez, a 68-year-old pensioner.

"When he does not do what they want, they will remind him that they brought him to power. And in five or six months we will either have fresh elections or they will oust him," Fernandez added.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)

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