Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Fire That Never Goes Out

The situation in the Partido Popular (PP) at the moment reminds me of those forest fires where they say the fire is under control but it keeps on smouldering underground and the fire fighters constantly have to run all over the place to stop it from breaking out again. Meanwhile their bosses are busily claiming that it wasn’t really a very serious fire anyway.

The departure of Angel Acebes has done little to calm things down in the PP, quite the opposite in many ways because of the rampant speculation about who Rajoy will choose to put in his place. The list of potential candidates is very long although I have the feeling that Rajoy will not give control of the party machine to anyone who is not one of his own people. There have been rumours that the position might go to Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. If Rajoy was to do this then he would effectively be directly challenging Esperanza Aguirre to challenge him, any favourable treatment of Gallardón is like a red cape to the Aguirre bull. Initially I thought the rumours about this happening were being spread by Aguirre supporters to try and encourage her to stand, but it now seems that it started with a comment by a pro-Rajoy journalist. Gallardón has in fact been secretary general of the PP in the past, or at least of its predecessor party, but I will be surprised if he is offered the job this time. Short of offering the position to Jose Maria Aznar, Rajoy can expect to be criticised whoever he chooses, which is probably why he is in no hurry to reveal the name.

The strategy of the anti-Rajoy camp is now switching towards a longer term campaign focused on the congress that the PP should theoretically hold in 2011, one year before the next general election must be held. There are a couple of potential problems with this strategy, leaving aside the considerable damage that three years of steady sniping can do to the party in general. The first is that the congress may not be held at all, the PP was supposed to have a congress last year and it just got postponed until after the election. A second problem is that you can never be sure that the government will see out its full term, anything can happen in the meantime and a minority government can always decide or be forced to go for early elections.

The big tests for Rajoy coming up in the not too distant future are the elections to the European Parliament and the regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia. Things will have to go very badly for Rajoy if he is to be hurt by the European elections, hardly anyone will vote and the greater loyalty of PP supporters could well see them win regardless of other factors that might affect voting intentions. The elections in the Basque Country are unlikely to produce a good result for the PP, and those in Galicia could severely damage Rajoy if the PP fails to regain control of a region that it treated for years as its own private property. The national congress in June is only going to be the prelude to what could turn out to be some very vicious regional congresses, as power struggles are emerging in different areas. There’s still a very strong smell of burning around the PP headquarters.

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