Spanish socialist Pedro Sanchez has been catapulted to power, taking over as prime minister from veteran conservative Mariano Rajoy, who lost a no-confidence vote following a corruption scandal.
Lawmakers stood and cheered in parliament on Saturday (Friday local time) as the untested 46-year-old – a pro-European lawmaker who has never been in government – became the country’s seventh head of state since its return to democracy in the late 1970s.
Rajoy’s departure after six years in office may lead to a spell of political uncertainty in the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, just as the third-largest – Italy – pulls back from early elections.
“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.
Mr Sanchez, who became prime minister with only 84 seats for his Socialists in the 350-member assembly thanks to support from the hard-left Podemos and smaller nationalist parties, said he intends to steer the country through to mid-2020 when the parliamentary term ends.
But his majority, the smallest for a Spanish government since the return to democracy following Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, makes it unclear how long his administration can last.
His strong pro-European credentials, and the fact that Mr Rajoy also ran a minority government, suggest fallout from any political ructions is likely to be limited.
The socialists’ unlikely leap into office, unexpected just a few days ago for a party that lags the centre-right Ciudadanos and Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party in opinion polls, was precipitated by last week’s sentencing of dozens of people linked to the PP to decades in jail in a corruption trial.
Anger with corruption allowed Mr Sanchez to win Friday’s no-confidence motion by 180 votes to 169, with one abstention.
Outgoing premier Mr Rajoy conceded defeat prior to the no-confidence vote, congratulating Mr Sanchez and telling deputies in a short speech: “It has been an honour to have left Spain in a better state than I found it.”
The 63-year-old veteran took over the government in 2011 in the middle of a deep recession and presided over a dramatic economic recovery.
However, his position had become increasingly untenable, undermined by scandals encircling his party as well as an independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia, which led Madrid to impose direct rule on the region last autumn.
Two Catalan pro-independence parties backed the motion of no-confidence in Mr Rajoy.