Pick of new spokesperson aims to give PP fresh appeal

2nd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Rajoy seeks to distance himself from hardliners with choice

2 April 2008

MADRID - In picking Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, a 36-year-old lawyer and close aide, to become the Popular Party's spokesperson in Congress, party leader Mariano Rajoy has sought to stamp his authority over the conservative wing of the party and present a fresh face to Spain in the wake of his defeat in the 9 March general election.

But while the choice of Sáenz de Santamaría may have pleased Rajoy's closest allies and reform-minded centrists, it has ruffled feathers on the party's right wing.

"She won't last long," quipped one veteran Congress representative as he left the meeting in Madrid on Monday in which Rajoy disclosed his choice. "It isn't the most suitable post for her," argued another.

With tensions already high within the PP in the wake of its second-consecutive election defeat to the Socialists, Rajoy's handpicking of Sáenz de Santamaría for one of the party's most prominent posts risks opening a new rift between moderates and hardliners ahead of the party convention in June.

Conservative hardliners, the same group who held sway over the PP's last Congress spokesperson, Eduardo Zaplana, see her as too inexperienced and insufficiently battle-hardened for such a key role. They would have preferred one of her two older rivals for the job, such as Esteban González Pons and Juan Costa, who, like Zaplana, have the added advantage of representing the party's increasingly powerful Valencian wing.

"Soraya deserved an opportunity," said one PP official. "But this isn't the most suitable post. She has barely any parliamentary experience and has only been in the party for four years."

"Soraya is going to have a hard time winning respect, no matter if she has the full support of Mariano," said one former minister.

Born in Valladolid, Sáenz de Santamaría started her political career as a government lawyer and aide to Rajoy when he was a cabinet minister in the second term of former Prime Minister José María Aznar between 2000 and 2004.

In the 2004 election she was elected to Congress in 18th place on the party's candidate list in representation of Madrid and subsequently was appointed by Rajoy to take charge of the PP's local and regional policy. In a legislature that saw the approval of several new autonomy statutes, she gained plenty of media coverage and negotiating experience.

[Copyright El Pais / Carlos E. Cue 2008]


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