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Sanchez takes charge in Spain as tarnished Rajoy departs

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, right, shakes hands with socialist leader Pedro Sanchez after a motion of no confidence vote at the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Friday, June 1, 2018. Opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez has won the vote to replace Mariano Rajoy as prime minister, in the first ouster of a serving Spanish leader by parliament in four decades of democracy. during the second day of a motion of no confidence session at the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Friday, June 1, 2018. (Pierre Phillipe Marcou/Pool Photo via AP)

By Chronicle staff and agencies

Spanish socialist Pedro Sanchez was catapulted to power yesterday, taking over as Prime Minister from veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Mr Sanchez, the leader of the largest opposition party, will be sworn in today, 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.

"I am aware of the responsibility I am assuming, of the complex political moment our country is going through, and I will rise to all the challenges with humility and dedication," Mr Sanchez told reporters.

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.

Anger with corruption allowed Mr Sanchez to win Friday's no-confidence motion by
180 votes to 169, with one abstention.

But the fragmented parliament means he will find it hard to row back on structural reforms passed by his predecessor, including new labour laws and cuts in healthcare and education.

The anti-austerity Podemos, a product of widespread anger at spending cuts imposed by Mr Rajoy's first government at the height of the euro zone crisis, has promised to support Mr Sanchez in parliament.

But the hard-left party seems unlikely to gain major influence over Mr Sanchez, who is keen to win back centrist voters.

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

The reputation of Mr Rajoy's Partido Popular 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 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.