Socialist opposition leader Pedro Sanchez is on the brink of ending Mariano Rajoy’s six-year reign as Spanish prime minister in what would be the first removal of a serving leader by the parliament in Madrid in four decades of democracy.
Mr Rajoy made brief farewell remarks to MPs before the vote, telling them: “It has been a honour to leave Spain better than I found it.
“Thank you to all Spaniards and good luck.”
The no-confidence vote, which Mr Sanchez initiated following corruption convictions linked to the ruling party, appears set to oust Mr Rajoy and make the 46-year-old Socialist Mr Sanchez prime minister-designate.
The vote is expected to pass by a narrow majority in the 350-seat lower house of the country’s parliament.
Mr Rajoy’s likely removal comes only 10 days after the Congress of Deputies passed this year’s national budget, which he hoped would allow him enough breathing space to carry on until the end of his term, in 2020.
But last week, Spain’s National Court sent to prison business chiefs and former members of Mr Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP), including its long-serving treasurer, and fined the party for benefiting from kickbacks.
Rafael Hernando said: “I am very proud of having a prime minister like Mariano Rajoy, who has worked tirelessly to build a country that the PSOE (an acronym for the Socialist party) left desolate.”
The Socialists governed before Mr Rajoy took office at the end of 2011, at the height of the financial crisis.
He also said Mr Sanchez was being a “parasite” by using weak alliances with anti-establishment, far-left and nationalist political groups in the Basque and Catalan regions to stage a power grab.
Mr Rajoy, Mr Hernando added, “is not a hostage to anything or anyone”.
The 63-year-old conservative leader implemented strict austerity measures to bring Spain out of the recession.
The dispute over the Catalan illegal independence declaration last year had dogged his second term, but it is longstanding corruption scandals staining his party’s reputation that look set to bring down his government.