PP power struggle erupts as Rajoy attacks rival

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Opposition leader hits back at Madrid premier Aguirre

21 April 2008

MADRID - The simmering battle for leadership of the opposition Popular Party (PP) reached boiling point last weekend when party leader Mariano Rajoy shed his usual circumspection and declared at a party rally that "anyone who wants to go join the Liberal or Conservative Party can do so".

The comment was clearly aimed at Madrid premier Esperanza Aguirre, who many believe will be his rival for the party leadership at the PP convention in June.

This is the first time that Rajoy has openly attacked Aguirre, who has not yet confirmed her intention to run for party president.

She is believed to have been seriously considering the move since the conservative force lost the 9 March general election - the second time it has lost under the leadership of Rajoy.

Earlier this month, Aguirre made a speech that was widely construed as a hint that she would attempt to oust Rajoy, who was personally appointed by former Prime Minister José María Aznar in 2004 and has not yet faced a party vote.

After Rajoy, the most powerful figure in the PP is Aguirre, who handles a EUR 19-billion budget from her stronghold in Madrid, where she obtained two back-to-back absolute majorities in regional elections.

In her statement, Aguirre called for an ideological debate within the PP, implying that its constituency was unhappy about the party's drift in recent years and casting herself as a true liberal with economic ideas based on the theories of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

"I don't want a party that is reduced to one single ideology. I want a Popular Party that is moderate, open and has a policy of integration," replied Rajoy at a party rally in Elche Saturday.

"I was there at the PP convention of 1989," Rajoy continued," when we integrated liberals, social democrats and Christian democrats. We created a great PP, and that is our greatest asset right now."

"I believe in more things than freedom. I believe in equal rights and opportunities, and that the state must help those who are not doing so well. I believe in public education and public health and a public pension system," added Rajoy, in a clear reference to Aguirre, who is known for favouring private management of schools and hospitals in the Madrid region.

Several regional PP heavyweights made a big show of support for Rajoy at Elche, including party leaders in the Mediterranean arc from Catalonia down to Andalusia, suggesting that if Aguirre does run for the party leadership, she faces stiff opposition.

"The vast majority of my region's votes will be for Mariano Rajoy," said Francisco Camps, the premier of Valencia.

[El Pais / Expatica]

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