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LA STAMPA

Mariano Rajoy: For Spain's New Leader, Sweet Revenge For A 'Normal' Guy

After working in the shadow of José María Aznar and losing twice to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the unassuming former “registrador della propriedad” is now set to lead Spain in a moment of great challenge.

Mariano Rajoy: For Spain's New Leader, Sweet Revenge For A 'Normal' Guy
Gian Antonio Orighi

MADRID - On Sunday evening, Mariano Rajoy fulfilled the largest ambition of all, appearing on the balcony of his Popular Party's headquarters in Calle Genova in Madrid to claim the party's victory in the general election and his arrival as Spanish Prime Minister.

Rojay, 56, had already appeared on that balcony on four other election nights. Twice, in 1996 and 2000, he stood silently at the side of the then-leader of the party, José María Aznar, as he claimed victory. In 2004 and 2008, Rajoy was the candidate there to concede defeat to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialists Party.

Rajoy's triumph is sweet revenge, seven years in the making. He was widely predicted to defeat Zapatero in 2004, but Al Qaeda train bombings in Madrid on March 11 that killed 191 people is believed to have turned that election around at the last moment. Some voters blamed the Popular Party for trying to initially blame the bombing on Basque separatists, while others saw the Al Qaeda attack as a consequence of Aznar's decision to have Spanish troops participate in the Iraq war.

By now, Spaniards know Rajoy well. Born in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, he is a trained lawyer, and a son of a judge. He is married to Elvira Fernández, an economist who, to support his campaign, has taken a leave from her work at the Spanish broadband and telecommunication provider Telefónica. The couple has two children.

"He is a normal man," says an old Rajoy friend and former union leader from Galicia.

Rajoy could have kept his lucrative career as a "registrador della propriedad," property registrar, but inherited a passion for politics from his grandfather, a supporter of Galicia's autonomy, and from the influence of Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a minister under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and founder of the center-right party once democracy had been established.

Rajoy started his political career in 1981, as a member of the then-People's Alliance, and is the only Spanish leader who has been in Parliament continuously for 30 years. He is famous for his sense of humor, his passion for the Real Madrid soccer team, for cycling (he was a radio sports commentator during La Vuelta, a Espana bike tour), and for enjoying good food and cigars.

He served as a Minister of Instruction, Culture and Interior between 1996 and 2003, was deputy prime minister, and was hand-picked by Aznar to succeed him as a leader of the Popular Party in 2003.

Scars and a charisma deficit

He has never been seen as a charismatic leader. According to his autobiography En Confianza (In Confidence), a 1979 car accident left Rajoy with a slight speech defect, and has to hide the scars on his face under a by now signature beard.

"When you meet a Galician on the stairs, you never know if he's going up or down," states a famous saying from his native region, which can well define Rajoy.

A good listener and hard worker, the incoming Prime Minister is not one who readily shares his opinions – or is likely to improvise. Nationalist in spirit and Catholic by faith, he is nevertheless not seen as fundamentalist in his approach to either. "We are not the bishops' party," he said, qualifying his opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage, approved in 2005 by Zapatero's government.

Still, having consistently opposed all Socialist government decisions, Zapatero nicknamed Rajoy El Señor No.

The toughest period politically was following Zapatero's reelection in 2008. The most important party's leaders, the President of Madrid Region, Esperanza Aguirre, and the Mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, tried in vain to get rid of him, after his second defeat.

"Politically, Rajoy's psychology is fascinating because he is far from the kind of leader his party would like to have: a populist authoritarian like Aguirre or an ideological authoritarian like Aznar," says the sociologist José Luis Álvarez. "Instead, the current leader of the Popular Party has taken to politics his skills of a local registrar. He writes, guarantees, informs, but does not transform. Marx would say that he is a perfect fit as a secretary of capitalism's board of directors," says Álvarez.

In his autobiography, Rajoy admitted he felt tempted to leave politics in 2004 and 2008, after the debacles against Zapatero. He admitted that his main regret was the bad management of the sinking of oil tanker Prestige, in 2002, when he denied for days that an environmental disaster was taking place on the coast of his Galicia. Even Aznar was nicknamed Aznarín (little Aznar), before becoming a charismatic leader. Rajoy, "el normal," will try to follow his example.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - Populares de Cantabria


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