Who is Mariano Rajoy? And can he save Spain?

Spain has a new prime minister: Mariano Rajoy. We thought we’d find out a little bit more about him

Spain’s newly elected leader Mariano Rajoy today received a phone call from David Cameron congratulating him on his party’s win.

Mr Cameron told Mr Rajoy he was looking forward to working closely with the new Spanish government. But who exactly is Mariano Rajoy and will his appointment mark a turning point in Spain’s attempt to emerge from recession?

Popular Party (PP) leader Rajoy, 56, won a convincing victory in Sunday’s election and immediately announced a “concerted effort” by all Spaniards to fight the debt crisis. The PP secured an absolute majority in parliament on Sunday. According to the preliminary results, the PP has won 186 of the total 350 seats in Spain’s lower house. The PP got about 44 percent of the vote, compared to the Socialists’ 29 percent.

Rajoy, who was defeated in the 2004 and 2008 elections by the Socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, addressed his cheering supporters in Madrid saying that, given the difficult economic situation, “no miracle” could be expected. Spain would have to “win back respect” in Brussels, he added.

Looking back

Rajoy graduated from the University of Santiago de Compostela at 24 and he passed the competitive examination required in Spain to enter into the civil service, becoming the youngest ever property registrar.

Elected a regional deputy for the Popular Party at the tender age of 26, he climbed the heights of the party, serving as a minister in the Aznar governments of 1996-2004.

During those formative years Rajoy served as minister of public administration, minister of education and culture before Aznar appointed him deputy prime minister and minister of the interior.

Apparently Aznar appointed Rajoy as his successor in 2004 in the hope that the conscientious but supposedly boring politician would pose no real competition, creating an easy path of return for Aznar down the line. The former leader must be kicking himself now.

Although Rajoy is familiar with the inner workings of European politics, regularly attending meetings of the centre-right European People’s Party, he is “not very interested in foreign policy”, according to Maria Ramirez, formerly of Spanish daily El Mundo.

Cameron may well be excited about his future conversations with the new Spanish leader but he is certain not to have them without a translator. “He is not very comfortable among his peers because of language issues, despite attempts to learn English,” she told the BBC News website.

Looking ahead

A quiet man, especially when in doubt or angry, Rajoy is known for keeping silent and holding his cards close to his chest. His wife Elvira Fernández is an economist.

Rajoy has committed himself to reducing the budget deficit to 4.4 per cent in 2012. He has expressed admiration for the austerity course of his fellow conservative, Angela Merkel. He made a pact with former leader Zapatero in September to enshrine a so-called debt brake in the Spanish constitution, in imitation of the German model, which will introduce a limit on the country’s structural deficit.

But Rajoy was deliberately vague about how he wanted to achieve the savings targets, in a bid to keep voters sweet. He lavished entrepreneurs with praise claiming he wanted to “roll out the red carpet” to them, encouraging the creation of jobs. He has mentioned a reduction in corporate and capital gains tax to facilitate growth in the private sector.

Under the former interior minister’s leadership, the Popular Party was seen as moving closer to the centre ground of Spanish politics, circumventing the party’s old guard.

The conservative leader’s staying power may prove a crucial factor: “He’s a long-distance runner, not a sprinter, and the economic crisis needs long-distance runners,” Popular Party MP Jose Maria Lassalle told Reuters news agency.

Let’s hope he’s got some good running shoes on.

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