Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) and Mariano Rajoy (PP) took part in often tense opening rounds of the socialist no confidence debate in the Prime Minister in Congress on Thursday morning.
Mr. Sánchez invited Mr. Rajoy to resign several times in order to save himself the ordeal of being forced out by what has been labelled in Spain as the Frankenstein coalition, with the PSOE seeking the support of Podemos and Basque and Catalan nationalists.
"This debate could end right now", said the socialist leader: "Are you ready to resign? Resign now and it will all come to an end. Are you going to continue, Mr. Rajoy?".
Rajoy appeared to chew nervously on something, but in the end rejected the invitations: "Why do I have to resign when I have, for now, the confidence of this chamber".
"You cannot be Prime Minister because you have never won an election", the PM said.
"Resign as Prime Minister", Mr. Sánchez shot back before concluding for lunch: "or, ladies and gentlemen, let us make him resign".
"I wish you the best personally, Mr. Rajoy, but in politics, you cannot go on as Prime Minister."
Several political correspondents reported during the course of the morning that the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) was manoeuvring to force Mr. Rajoy out, but at the midday recess, parliamentary spokesman Aitor Esteban was not saying anything official and the party only put out a tweet that it was still watching the debate from Vitoria.
During his remarks, Pedro Sánchez said he would keep Mr. Rajoy's 2018 budget, considered a key signal for the PNV, "out of responsibility" and offered "dialogue" and a meeting with Quim Torra—whom he had recently described as a supremacist—to Catalan separatists.
"Catalonia is a political problem that needs to be solved", said the PSOE leader, rejecting conservative allegations of a lack of patriotism, saying he would not allow Mr. Rajoy to lecture him on "my love for my country".
His plan for government, he said, would be based on institutional, budgetary, social and territorial stability.
"The Constitution is the keystone of our democracy", he said, adding that the country is faced with the "very grave facts" of the PP's corruption in the Gürtel fraud judgement: "that demand a conclusive result from this chamber".
Mr. Rajoy, wearing a tie in Basque-nationalist green, was on better form replying to PSOE spokesman José Luis Ábalos than in his replies to Mr. Sánchez, and spent most of his time criticising the socialist, without making any offers of his own to the regional nationalists.
He said variously that Mr. Sánchez's plan "is incredible. It deforms reality", or "is an exercise in pyrotechnics. You don't have a plan for Spain"
"The risk premium skyrockets when you open your mouths."
The PM rejected accusations of corruption against the Popular Party, and said the Socialist Party was anyway just as bad: "Are you Mother Teresa?", he asked PSOE MPs, to giggles from his own side, even telling them "you must not lie to Congress".
The judges in the Gürtel case called into question the veracity and credibility of Mr. Rajoy's statements to the court, phrases generally interpreted in the Spanish press as being a polite way of saying the Prime Minister had lied.
At times Mr. Rajoy appeared almost defeatist or in the mood to sign off, "I will still be Spanish", he said at one point, and talked in the past tense of "having governed", but by the end of the morning was more combative: "Are you going to lecture me on resigning", he asked Mr. Sánchez: "the person who should resign is you, and irreversibly".
The PSOE leader, said the PM "is in no condition to form a stable government, has no idea of his country, and no answers for the challenges facing Spain".
One PP correspondent reported the party was prepared to pull its own budget from passage through the Senate if the Basque Nationalists were about to vote in favour of Mr. Sánchez, or that the PP in the Basque Country might try to withdraw support for the PNV's regional budget.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera picked up on the PSOE and PP slinging mud at each other about which is the most corrupt party: "Spain's champions league in corruption today in Congress is pathetic", he tweeted.
Referring to the Podemos-led challenge to Mr. Rajoy last year, parliamentary spokeswoman Irene Montero told a TV programme that "Today the most urgent thing is the possibility for that seed that we sowed last year can flower" in order to "get the PP out of our institutions".
Updated: 2:04 pm, May 31 2018 (link)
Basque Nationalists Have Decided, To Announce This Evening
The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has decided which way its five MPs in Congress will vote in the no confidence debate against Mariano Rajoy and will announce the decision in parliament this evening, the party said in a tweet.
"The [leadership committee] has made a decision. It will be communicated to the parliamentary group shortly. [Spokesman] Aitor Esteban will announce it during his speech [in Congress]."
Subscribe Now To Understand Spain Better, In English
Spain is a fascinating country, its history full of intriguing characters and events, and the story is not over yet.
Catalan independence, Podemos, corruption, economic recovery and now a political crisis that might bring Rajoy's government down.
The truth still needs to be told, power still needs holding to account. Our collective futures depend on our ability to understand how our societies are evolving.
The Spain Report gives you fast reporting and deeply informed analysis of the latest news, events and trends changing this wonderful country, in English.
Your subscription guarantees our news and analysis are 100% independent.