Friday, December 26, 2008

El Mayor Problema

I hope Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy has had a peaceful Christmas, because next year promises to be anything but relaxing for him. Whether he survives 2009 as PP leader or not depends crucially on two of the three electoral tests that are coming up in the next few months. First will come perhaps the most important of these elections for him, for the regional government of Galicia. The PP lost control here by a very narrow margin last time, so a failure to win back Galicia could be enough on its own to encourage his internal opposition to start mobilising against him. It is also Rajoy's home territory. Galicia's election will be quickly followed by one in the Basque Country, where the PP is not expected to do well in any case; only a complete disaster here would hurt Rajoy. Then come the elections to the European Parliament, where a PP defeat would also be tremendously damaging. The latter may be the election where they do best, given the likely low participation and the generally greater motivation to vote amongst right wing voters.

With any other politician except Rajoy, it might seem surprising that the choice of the main candidate for the European elections has still not been made, the governing PSOE presented their candidate months ago. Mariano has almost as many problems taking a decision as he does with remembering what happened during the government which he formed part of under Aznar. The current PP leader in the European Parliament is Jaime Mayor Oreja, one of the few surviving Aznaristas still in a prominent position. Mayor was very critical of the post election purge in the PP and many observers saw his hand behind the resignation of Maria San Gil in what was yet another attempt to force Rajoy to go. It seems a bit strange that Rajoy would leave him in place, but given that the European Parliament is far away it can be a good place for a party leader to send his critics and rivals. Perhaps he will also choose to apply the Lyndon B Johnson principle; it's better to have your opponents inside the tent pissing out, than on the outside pissing in.

One of the significant threats to the PP vote, apart from Rajoy's uninspiring leadership, comes from ex PSOE member Rosa Diez and her new party, the UPyD. Rajoy himself is said to have described Diez as a left wing leader who takes votes from the right. The second part of that assessment could be correct, given the failure of the PP to rise in the opinion polls despite the economic situation. El Mundo has been doing a good job of promoting Diez recently, naturally any suggestion that they are doing so to try and undermine Rajoy has to be firmly rejected. Diez and UPyD have moved opportunistically to fill spaces that the PP's apparently less strident opposition has left open. Rajoy himself seemed to respond to this recently by returning to the theme of terrorism and the continuing municipal presence in the Basque Country of the illegalised ANV. In doing so he let the genie out of the bottle and in no time it seemed just like the old days as the usual suspects from the hard right ranted on about how the government and ETA were working hand in hand. Realising a bit too late what he had done, Rajoy moved to calm things down by publicly stating that the government was not negotiating with ETA. It was a brief and ugly reminder of what lies just below the surface in the PP.


Colin said...


Hope you had or are having a good break.

When you're back, could you just confirm that you see UPD as being to the right of the PP, as I interpret your comment about them filling the gap by the PP's [temporary?] move away from stridency. I'm not tryimg to be funny; I thought they were to the left. And this Wiki entry doesn't really answer my query. Unless it means the UPD can be very right wing on some issues and very left wing on others. 'Progressive' perhaps . . .,_Progress_and_Democracy

Graeme said...

I'm not saying that UPD is to the right of the PP in general Colin, but on what we could call the "national question" and terrorism there is no doubt that they are trying to occupy the space (temprarily?) abandoned by Rajoy on those issues. I see that Jaime Mayor Oreja, who is well on the right of the PP, thinks that he and Rosa Diez defend the same principles.

There is a commonly made assumption that "centrist" parties adopt the best from both left and right. I would suggest that the example of UPD shows that not to be the case.