Spain election winner Rajoy seen as dull but safe
Critics have branded him boring, but in an economic crisis conservative leader Mariano Rajoy was not too dull to win power in Spain's general election.
Voters turned to the lisping 56-year-old to yank Spain out of its economic rut and convince investors it will not need to be bailed out in the eurozone finance crisis, according to an exit poll.
His Popular Party crushed the ruling Socialists in Sunday’s general election, taking between 181 and 185 seats in the 350-member Congress of Deputies, said the first unofficial projection based on an exit poll by public broadcaster RTVE at the close of voting.
If the exit poll is confirmed it will be third time lucky for Rajoy, who was defeated by outgoing premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2004 and 2008. He will be able to form a government and be sworn in a prime minister from December 20.
Looking for a leader to haul them out of an economic crisis that created a 21.5-percent jobless rate and tipped Spain towards recession, voters were drawn to Rajoy’s straighforward style, analysts said.
“His great weakness of being a boring and predictable man has been converted into his great strength,” said Anton Losada, a political analyst at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Rajoy’s hometown.
“It is a victory for perseverence,” Losada said ahead of the election, when polls were giving him a wide lead over his Socialist rival, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.
“He has kept up the political line of someone normal and predictable,” he added. “His principal strength is the crisis and unemployment,” for which the Socialists are widely blamed.
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.
He 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 for his handling of a 2002 oil leak and Spain’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The crisis pushed economic management to the fore in election campaigning and enabled Rajoy to play the statesman, taking a key role in a constitutional reform to reduce Spain’s deficit.
“He can save Spain,” said one voter, Mercedes Rodriguez, at a polling station in Madrid on Sunday.
Octavio Arginano, a retired 67-year-old factory worker, said he voted for the right for the first time in his life because of the economic crisis, but remained doubtful whether Rajoy could turn things around.
“There has to be a change, although I am not sure anyone knows what to do to get us out of this situation.”
Rajoy has promised to make spending cuts “everywhere” except in pensions, but even this stark warning did not deter an electorate already feeling the pain of cuts affecting salaries, education and healthcare.
Rajoy has been evasive about whether he will try to reverse social reforms that have marked the Socialists’ eight years in power, such as loosening abortion laws and legalising gay marriage.
“Rajoy doesn’t make the decisions, the Popular Party leaders share the jobs to respond to a diverse electorate,” political editorialist Jose Maria Ridao said before the vote.
“That is their strategy. The problem is it gives him the image of someone who doesn’t know how to impose himself, and that can turn against him.”
In a recent press interview Rajoy denied that characterisation in typically plain language.
“I take decisions when I think they have to be taken,” he said.