While Rajoy, who became prime minister in 2011, has been on Spain's political scene for over a decade, Sánchez was relatively unknown until 2014, when he became the leader of the Spanish Socialist party.
Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez took over as Spain's prime minister on Friday, after parliament toppled his predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote triggered by a corruption scandal involving members of his centre-right party.
The new prime minister said the vote represented "a new page in the history of democracy in our country".
However, to pass any measures he will have to rely on the support of two Catalan pro-independence parties, the anti-establishment Podemos and a Basque nationalist group - all who have differing views.
Spain's stock market rose after the parliamentary vote, to trade almost 2 percent higher on Thursday's close, while the country's borrowing costs fell, soothed by Sanchez's commitment to respecting a fiscally conservative budget passed by Rajoy.
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Sanchez, 46, takes the helm of the 19-country eurozone's fourth-largest economy at a time when the European Union faces numerous challenges, including the United Kingdom's departure from the bloc and migrants continuing to enter the continent from North Africa.
He earned a stunning victory to return as leader in May 2017 when he won an internal party election against Susana Diaz, the candidate anointed by the party's powerbrokers, including former prime ministers Felipe Gonzalez and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. His appeal for a government clean of scandal, coupled with a promise to hold new elections soon, brought him just enough votes in parliament to end Rajoy's 6 1/2 years in charge.
Sanchez said he meant to call elections before the end of this parliamentary term in 2020, but he didn't say when, and he probably will want to make his mark first with some headline policies before going to the polls.
Among them were the party's former treasurer, Mr. Bárcenas, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined about $51.3 million.
"I'm aware of the responsibility and the complex political moment of our country", Sanchez said in brief comments to reporters after the 180-169 vote in the Congress of Deputies, Spain's parliament.
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Sánchez, whose nickname locally is "Mr".
Podemos has already asked to be part of his new government.
Barring last-minute surprises, a no-confidence vote that would oust Rajoy and make Sanchez prime minister-designate is expected to pass by a narrow majority in parliament's 350-seat lower house.
Sanchez had been Rajoy's most loyal backer in his takeover of Catalonia's regional government following its failed secession attempt a year ago. "With what moral authority do you speak?" he told Sanchez.
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