Spain's new premier seen as sober, safe
Spain's new Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is seen as methodical, predictable, even dull -- and Spaniards hope those very qualities will lead them out of a deep crisis.
The grey-bearded 56-year-old, who took his right-leaning Popular Party to a landslide win over the Socialists in November 20 elections, has shown signs, too, of a steely determination.
Three days before he was sworn in Wednesday as the new prime minister, Rajoy warned of tough action to haul Spain out of an economic slump that has created a towering 21.5-percent jobless rate.
Rajoy, who has a slight lisp, outlined 16.5 billion euros ($21.5 billion) in budget cuts in 2012 and warned he would slash another 10 billion euros if Spain veers off target in its 2011 spending.
Resisting pressure for urgent action, he refused to give full details of the cuts until he has the full 2011 budget figures -- not due until March.
Rajoy is renowned for his patience, suffering two general election defeats to former prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero before coming back this year and snatching an outright majority in parliament.
Educated in a Jesuit school and trained as a lawyer, Rajoy turned to politics at a young age, joining the Popular Alliance Party, founded by sympathisers of former dictator Francisco Franco.
The opening line of "In Confidence", an autobiographical sketch of his political vision published this year, painted a typically prosaic picture.
"I am Mariano Rajoy, a Spaniard and a Galician born in Santiago 56 years ago," it read.
In the book, Rajoy insists on the important influence of his father, a judge, from whom he says he inherited "a marked sense for the respect of rules, a sense of justice and effort".
He stresses the importance of education, calling for a return in Spain to "respect for authority" and "greater emphasis on discipline", and describing the custom of favouring spontaneity among pupils as "tremendously harmful".
Rajoy has admitted a fondness for cycling and Real Madrid Football Club, but politics has been his life. He was elected a regional official at the age of 26 and rose to serve in several national ministerial posts.
As one of the right-hand men of Jose Maria Aznar, the conservative prime minister from 1996 to 2004, Rajoy won prestige in his party for his handling of a 2002 oil leak and his defence of Spain's role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
It was the economic crisis that finally doomed the Socialists, however, and allowed Rajoy to position himself as a steady, determined leader in troubled times.
On Monday, he promised bitter medicine to cure Spain's ills, with only pensions being spared the knife.
"I know that things are going to be difficult, but I am keen, I have hope and determination to take Spain forward," Rajoy told reporters on the eve of taking power.
© 2011 AFP