MADRID - Spain's parliament agreed Monday to subject Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to a vote of no confidence this week in the wake of graft convictions of businesspeople and officials tied to his conservative Popular Party.
The lower house of Spain's parliament, the Congress of Deputies, said it would hold a debate Thursday on whether Rajoy should be replaced by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez and then vote on the opposition's no-confidence motion Friday.
All major parties, except for the ruling People's Party, are calling for Rajoy to step down, but the prime minister has fended off pressure until now. He has called the opposition's campaign "opportunist" and said that instability goes against the general interest of Spain's people.
Sanchez has yet to enlist enough support to defeat Rajoy with an absolute majority of the 350 seats in the fragmented chamber. The Socialists have the backing of the far-left, anti-establishment Podemos party, but they would need votes from lawmakers with the pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party or nationalist and separatist parties for their leader to supplant Rajoy.
Ciudadanos, a rising star in the center-right of Spanish politics led by Albert Rivera, is refusing to support Sanchez and is seeking a new general election instead.
Recent polls have given Rivera, a young lawmaker from Catalonia, strong chances of placing first in an election, positioning him to become prime minister but without winning a majority to form a government on its own.
Rivera, who until last week had supported Rajoy's minority government, stepped up the pressure Monday on the conservative prime minister to step down even though Ciudadanos refuses to support the Socialist candidate.
"There is a minority government that is alone and holding on to power, with a prime minister that is not reacting," Rivera told journalists.
Spain's National Court last week convicted 29 people, including Popular Party supporters and elected officials, on charges of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, among other crimes.
Among those convicted was Luis Barcenas, the long-time party treasurer and a close aide to Rajoy, who was sentenced to 33 years behind bars and a fine of 44 million euros ($51.1 million). Barcenas was due to enter a prison on Monday after a brief morning hearing at the National Court.
The court had also fined the governing party 245,000 euros ($287,000) for benefiting between 1999 and 2005 from ``an authentic and efficient system of institutional corruption'' that provided PP officials with bribes from business owners in exchange for public infrastructure contracts.
Judges also found evidence that a slush fund helped finance the party and questioned the sincerity of Rajoy's testimony denying knowledge of the scheme.
Neither PP, which is appealing the verdict, nor Rajoy were defendants in the case, but the prime minister had to testify as a witness.