Call it the revenge of the separatists. At the end of last week, Spain’s leading nationalist-regionalist parties, the Basque Nationalist Party and the Republican Left of Catalonia, delivered the crucial votes for the censure motion that ousted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-wing Popular Party (PP) from power. The motion was orchestrated by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). An obscure stipulation in the Spanish constitution borrowed from Germany, such a motion allows for the removal of a sitting government if a successful vote of no confidence is accompanied by the selection of the next head of government with an absolute parliamentary majority. The vote last week made Rajoy the first Spanish leader in the post-Franco era to exit office in such an ignoble manner. The Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, now Madrid’s new prime minister, had given Rajoy multiple chances to resign, but Rajoy chose to be forced out rather than to leave of his own accord.
This was a spectacular fall for one of western Europe’s longest-ruling premiers, but not an altogether surprising one. An uncharismatic politician from the northwestern region of Galicia, Rajoy had been defying the laws of political gravity for decades. He twice sought the prime ministership, in 2004 and 2008, before finally prevailing in 2011. Along the way, Rajoy accumulated plenty of powerful enemies, especially in Spain’s separatist regions, Catalonia most notably. His most memorable and consequential decision was last year’s controversial shutdown of Catalonia’s autonomous regional government, after that government’s separatist leaders boldly defied Madrid by declaring the region an independent republic.
Rajoy’s removal of a popularly elected regional government, a removal which is allowed under the Spanish constitution, was preceded by his disastrous decision to send the national police to Catalonia to prevent the separatist government from holding a referendum on independence, a referendum that Spain’s Constitutional Court had already declared unconstitutional. The sight of police officers physically preventing people from exercising the right
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