The woman who wields power in Spain

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She's the youngest member of Spain's new right-leaning government and one of only four women, but 40-year-old Soraya Saenz de Santamaria is the cabinet's undisputed powerbroker.

Mother of a baby boy born just last month, the successful lawyer has risen swiftly and quietly to become the right hand of 56-year-old Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy gave her three key posts: deputy prime minister, chief government spokeswoman, and minister of the presidency in charge of relations between the premier's office and parliament.

In addition, the Popular Party premier handed her reponsibility for the National Intelligence Service and its reported 3,500 spies, once part of the Defence Ministry.

"I accept I have many duties. I am one of those who thinks you have to speak of duty more than powers," Saenz de Santamaria said in a news conference after the new government's first cabinet meeting.

"I will do my utmost to handle everything, and if there is something I cannot do I will ask for help."

Born in the central city of Valladolid in 1971, Saenz de Santamaria was known as a brilliant lawyer when, 11 years ago, she joined the office of Rajoy, who was civil services minister for then premier Jose Maria Aznar.

Her efficiency, hard work and discretion impressed Rajoy, and she reportedly became a key aide because of her ability to prepare clear briefing papers for the boss.

Rajoy took over the party leadership in 2004 and decided to put the political unknown on the Popular Party list for election in Madrid. But the results were worse than expected and she did not get a seat.

When Rodrigo Rato left parliament to run the International Monetary Fund, however, she secured his seat.

"She rose in the shadows," said a profile by the daily El Pais.

"Always efficient, hard-working and discrete -- and with a very low political profile, avoiding titles and especially rows, as she had learned from her boss -- she rose," it said.

Saenz de Santamaria travelled the country getting to know party members, and gaining a reputation as a problem solver.

In 2008, Rajoy named her as spokeswoman for the party in the parliament's most powerful chamber, the Congress of Deputies.

In an interview with the daily El Mundo in 2009 she made waves posing for a black-and-white photograph sitting on the floor with a sheer black dress draped around her and arranged to show her legs.

"I work at my rhythm, which is quick. I work like the ants, leaving the strokes of genius to others," she told the paper.

Asked about her ambitions, Saenz de Santamaria replied: "I don't want to be president of anything, not even my neighbourhood community. Rather than power for power's sake, I want to change things. Idealist? I would say more a realist in my analysis but an idealist in my goals."

© 2011 AFP

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