Rajoy shrugs off Aznar's attacks

Rajoy shrugs off Aznar's attacks

23rd June 2008, Comments 0 comments

Unconvincing leadership ballot – the lowest percentage of ballots ever received - suggests party infighting is far from over

MADRID - As the sole candidate, Mariano Rajoy entered the Popular Party convention on Friday knowing full well that he would be re-elected as party president.

What he probably did not expect was to first have to weather the barbs and arrows of José María Aznar, the only PP member to have served as prime minister and now the party's honorary president.

Rather like a father chastising a wayward son, Aznar filled his speech on Saturday with implicit attacks on Rajoy's leadership since the PP failed to win the general election in March. He accused him, indirectly, of turning his back on the PP's conservative principles, of going soft on the re-elected Socialist government and of ostracising grassroots members.

"We have to be the party that a majority of Spaniards trust. Not the party that our adversaries would like," Aznar chided.

Though party spokespeople tried to play down talk of a rift between Aznar and Rajoy, the tension was present from the start. Aznar arrived an hour and a half late, warmly greeted most of the senior PP members present, but only gave Rajoy a withering handshake.

He offered Rajoy his "responsible" - not unconditional - support. He then left before Rajoy's speech in the afternoon.

For Rajoy, the situation was evidently uncomfortable. He owes much of where is today to Aznar, who handpicked him as his successor in 2003 only to see the PP lose power in the 2004 general election.

The raucous applause - even a standing ovation by some hardliners, among them Madrid premier Esperanza Aguirre - that Aznar's speech received undoubtedly did little to make Rajoy think that things would get any easier.

They did not. His speech, in which he stressed the need for the party to change its tone if not its principles, elicited far less energetic applause than Aznar's.

And, when it came to the voting, Rajoy received the lowest percentage of ballots of any PP candidate running alone at a convention since the PP was founded in 1989.

He was re-elected by 84 percent of delegates, with most of the remainder casting blank ballots in protest. In 2004 he had received more than 98 percent, while Aznar, in his last convention as a candidate in 2002, took 99.5 percent.

However, in sticking to his guns, running the gauntlet of fierce internal opposition and pressing ahead with a swing to the centre of Spanish politics, Rajoy has proven himself to be nothing if not courageous.

Most significantly, he handed Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, long a black sheep reviled by hardliners such as Aguirre, a key decision-making role.

Having come to the conclusion that the PP's unswerving opposition to the Socialist government's last legislature failed to win over swing voters, Rajoy appears keen to be seen as more pragmatic, more moderate and more in touch with voters' feelings this time around.

"We are not going to change any of our principles, but we must improve our methods... I don't want anyone to vote for the Socialist Party just to stop the Popular Party from winning," Rajoy said Saturday.

He also questioned why, as hardliners would have it, the party should not negotiate policy with the Socialists. "A 'no' means much more when you also know how to say yes," he noted.

That stands in stark contrast to Aznar, who remained adamant that the PP should "first win the election, then worry about talking".

text by El Pais / Expatica
photos by Iker Parriza and ANP

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