Mariano Rajoy was the candidate who never quit, no matter what remarks were made about his charisma. His perseverance became a trademark, a political asset for the Partido Popular, seen as reassuring in the economic storm. And so the 56-year-old from the Galicia region led Spain’s conservatives back to power.
Ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar had appointed Rajoy his successor to head the party when it was shattered in the 2004 elections won by a relative unknown. This was in the wake of the Islamist bombings in Madrid for which Aznar had originally blamed the Basque group ETA.
Rajoy never completely accepted that defeat, though the Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero won the next elections too.
As a leader of the opposition, Rajoy gave the government no rest on the question of Basque separatist terrorism. He condemned attempts to negotiate with ETA in 2006.
He said: “The message we want to get across is there can’t be any negotiations with terrorists. Neither will we pay a high political price. The oldest country in Europe, with a population of 44 million, and the eighth power in the world is not going to be defeated by a gang of criminals.”
When the Partido Popular won local elections this year, scenting greater gains approaching, Rajoy said:
“This party, in all the institutions it governs — and if the Spanish people also want it in the nation’s government — will govern for all.”
Throughout the electoral campaign, Rajoy hammered out the same message, to reach the widest possible electorate.
“Our enemies are: the economic crisis and unemployment, and we’re coming for them. I pledge to be courageous when the time comes to govern, courageous and prudent — two absolutely compatible characteristics,” he said.
He agreed with the Socialists to put a limit to the public deficit in the country’s constitution. When ETA renounced violence, he spoke prudently as well.
He said: “For the first time in 40 years ETA has said it’s stopping its criminal activity definitively, and this is a positive thing. The only roadmap is the rule of law. That is not negotiable.”
Several times minister in the past, the married father of two has reached a political peak, 30 years after his earliest election to office, when he was 26.