Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spot The Loser!

Sounds like an easy question doesn’t it, the loser in this photograph taken on election night has to be the one with the beard? Well, maybe he is not the only loser shown in this image because yesterday’s news that Mariano Rajoy intends to carry as leader of the Partido Popular (PP) creates a serious problem for the lady who was smiling so happily behind him on the other side of the window. Esperanza Aguirre didn’t appear on the balcony as Mariano Rajoy gave what many thought was his farewell address to the PP supporters in the street below. The feeling that this was his last election was widespread, and some of the PP’s allies in the media had already started talking about the need for change at the top of the party.

Well yesterday saw the meeting of the PP’s national executive, and Rajoy took everyone by surprise by announcing his intention to stay on and fight the next general election. A national congress will be held in June and Rajoy will present himself for re-election. The challenge is clear for Aguirre or anyone else with ambitions to lead the party; they will have to take on Rajoy in a public contest. This creates a potentially unprecedented situation for the PP, which doesn’t generally encourage public dispute or debate. Elections for candidates are not very common either, Rajoy was chosen by Aznar; not by the party in general. The PP always reminds me of the Soviet Communist Party in the way in which it works, as all signs of public dissent are frowned upon. So we are told by El Mundo that the “message of renovation and continuity transmitted by the PP leader….has had wide support amongst the leaders of his party.” Furthermore, tractor production will be increased by 8000% in the next five years and I am only making some of this up.

Unfortunately for Aguirre, this is probably her last chance. If Zapatero serves his full term she will be 60 at the time of the next election, move on another four years after that and she is unlikely to be seen as the fresh face the party needs to change its fortunes. The other possible candidates can bide their time. Alberto Ruiz Gallardón has little choice in that because there is simply no possibility he will win the party’s backing now. Another possible candidate for the succession, Valencia’s Francisco Camps, is young enough to wait for his moment too. The only other name that had been mentioned was that of Rodrigo Rato whose political ambitions were shattered when Aznar chose Rajoy over him. Rato, despite being very busy earning truckloads of money, is still a potential player for a party in need of a candidate capable of attracting votes.

Rajoy’s argument is that Aznar had three bites at the cherry before he finally won a national election. The difference, though, is that Aznar began with a party in opposition whereas Rajoy became PP leader when they had an absolute majority. Had he wanted to go he would have been allowed to leave with dignity, given that the defeat he suffered was not overwhelming. Moreover, the PP’s inability to do self-criticism (they are Stalinists rather than Maoists) means that they cannot find anything wrong with what they have done; so why change the leader? His decision to stay almost certainly counts with the blessing of both Aznar and Manuel Fraga, and is a direct challenge to those who made his life difficult during the last parliament by publicly exhibiting their ambition to replace him. Rajoy has declared that he wants to renovate his team, which should mean that both Angel Acebes and Eduardo Zaplana are shifted aside. Even so, it hardly looks like a fresh start and it seems hard to imagine a third Rajoy candidacy generating much public enthusiasm. Things have to go badly for Zapatero for the PP to return to power this way.

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