Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister of Spain, spent eight hours holed up with his staff in a private section of a Madrid restaurant yesterday, playing hooky while the Parliament debated a vote of no confidence that, if passed, would replace him with Pedro Sánchez, the leader of Spain’s Socialist party. Rajoy had hurried out of Parliament a little past 1 pm, with the morning session still in full swing and his fate uncertain. By the time he stumbled out of the restaurant, at 10 pm, it was clear that the next day would be his last at the helm of the country. Earlier this morning, 180 out of 350 deputies voted to send him home.
His ouster, marking an end to seven years of conservative rule in Spain, follows a week of intense political activity that started last Thursday in Barcelona. In the early morning of May 24, around 500 agents of the financial-crime unit of Spain’s national police raided the offices of Barcelona’s provincial government. They seized hundreds of documents, arrested 29 people suspected of embezzling millions of euros of international aid, and, according to the frenzied Madrid media, finally revealed how the Catalan government had financed the independence referendum last October 1. Since October, Spain’s central government has revoked the region’s self-rule and dissolved the Catalan parliament, forcing new elections. The Spanish Supreme Court has similarly gone on the offensive, indicting 16 Catalan politicians and civil-society leaders for rebellion, sedition, and embezzlement. Nine have been in prison since then, awaiting trial. Seven others, including former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, have fled into exile.
By the afternoon of May 24, the headlines of Madrid’s newspapers had changed. Three judges from the National Criminal Court in Madrid issued a devastating, 1,687-page verdict on the Gürtel Case, the largest investigation of political corruption since Spain’s transition to democracy in the 1970s. The judges showed that Spain’s ruling conservative party, Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP), had long kept a set of shadow books logging millions of euros in corporate kickbacks that went to finance the party’s campaigns and line the pockets of its politicians. The court sentenced 29 people, including prominent party officials, to prison terms ranging from four to 51 years. It also slapped the party with a $300,000 fine. One week later, the results of the decade-long, but by no means isolated, probe convinced a majority of Spain’s Parliament to support a no-confidence vote.