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Cablegate: Spain: Turmoil Within the Partido Popular--Can

VZCZCXRO3816
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHMD #0537/01 1350815
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 140815Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4764
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 3420

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MADRID 000537

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV SP
SUBJECT: SPAIN: TURMOIL WITHIN THE PARTIDO POPULAR--CAN
RAJOY HOLD ON?

MADRID 00000537 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: CDA Hugo Llorens for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (U) Two months after suffering a second straight defeat at
the hands of President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero,
opposition Partido Popular (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy finds
himself in the midst of a crisis that threatens the future of
his party leadership. In the days following the March 9
general election, Rajoy announced that he would remain the PP
leader--reminding Spanish citizens that Jose Maria Aznar lost
two elections to Felipe Gonzalez before finally winning in
1996--and received the public support of nearly every senior
party official. Rajoy then took steps to soften the party's
tone and remake it in his own image, in an attempt to dilute
the influence of Aznar. To that end, he eased out
Congressional spokesman Eduardo Zaplana and Secretary General
Angel Acebes and announced he would be taking the party in a
new direction.

2. (U) The cracks in PP unity began to show on April 7, when
Madrid Regional President (U.S. governor equivalent)
Esperanza Aguirre refused to rule out a challenge to Rajoy at
the upcoming party conference in June. The potential for a
challenge to Rajoy's leadership was a major news story in
Spain for the next several days, with some in the PP even
discussing the feasibility of conducting a U.S.-style primary
system to choose the party's next leader. Rajoy and his
supporters tried to douse any speculation of a leadership
change, but the crisis has not gone away. More wood was
added to the fire on May 12 when the popular PP leader in the
Basque Country, Maria San Gil, announced that she would not
serve again on the committee drafting the party's political
program because she no longer had confidence in Rajoy or his
team. Immediately after this announcement, senior party
officials including Aguirre, Acebes, Madrid Councilwoman (and
wife of President Aznar) Ana Botella, and former Aznar
Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, expressed their support
for San Gil's decision and called on Rajoy to reflect on the
current turmoil within his party. For the first time since
the March 9 elections, we are now hearing serious speculation
that Rajoy may not be able to hold on to power.

3. (C) During the week of May 5 (in the middle of the
controversy over the future of Rajoy's leadership but before
the uproar caused by the San Gil announcement), the Charge
d'Affaires held separate meetings with Gustavo de Aristegui,
PP Congressional Spokesman for Foreign Affairs, and Jorge
Moragas, PP Director of International Relations and a key
Rajoy advisor. Aristegui was very critical of Rajoy's
actions in the wake of the electoral loss, saying that he
seemed to be blaming everyone but himself for the results.
He said Rajoy's actions to force out Zaplana and Acebes and
bring in a new team were akin to the captain of a ship, not
only abandoning ship, but leaving his crew in the sinking
vessel. Aristegui said that Rajoy's lack of loyalty to those
who had been with him all along was not sitting well with
other PP leaders. He opined that Rajoy needed to open up the
June party conference and allow all interested officials to
present their candidacy for PP leadership. He said that if
Rajoy was able to defeat challengers in a fair and open
process, his leadership would no longer be questioned.
Aristegui said that Rajoy may be able to maintain control
beyond the June convention, but opposition to his leadership
would grow if the PP does poorly in the next rounds of
Spanish regional elections in the Basque Country (currently
scheduled for April 2009) and Galicia (June 2009). It should
be noted that Aristegui perhaps feels personally betrayed
since Rajoy has clearly demoted him in the party's foreign
policy circles.

4. (C) As expected, Moragas was more upbeat in his comments
to the Charge and, while acknowledging that there were
currently concerns about Rajoy's leadership, predicted that
the party would eventually fall back in line. He said that
in the coming weeks Rajoy would attempt to remain above the
fray and look towards the next four years in opposition by
issuing position papers on topics such as the economy,
security, and regional issues. He said that President
Zapatero and his Socialist government were in for a very
rocky way ahead with the economy continuing to tank and key
issues in Catalonia and the Basque Country coming to a head.
He said it is more vital than ever for the party to remain
united and seize the moment when Zapatero stumbles. Moragas
said that he and Rajoy developed a close working relationship
during the campaign and that he is now one of Rajoy's closest
advisors. He added however that he was not a "Rajoy guy,"
but rather a loyal party member who responded when asked to
serve.

//COMMENT//

MADRID 00000537 002.2 OF 002


5. (C) Rajoy does not posses great charisma, and many were
surprised when former President Aznar hand-picked him as his
successor in 2003. Many more were surprised when Rajoy did
not bow out five years later after a second straight
electoral loss. We believe Rajoy owes his longevity as much
as anything to the lack of a credible successor within his
own party. Would-be challengers such as Esperanza Aguirre,
Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, or Valencia Regional
President Francisco Camps all have their own drawbacks, and
none enjoys the national stature of Rajoy (and both
Ruiz-Gallardon and Camps appear to still be backing Rajoy).
However, a groundswell of opposition may be building. Maria
San Gil's public criticism of Rajoy's leadership was
certainly noteworthy, but maybe more so is the number of
senior PP leaders coming out of the woodwork to express
solidarity with her, and to call on Rajoy to seriously
respond to the current unease among the party faithful.
Rajoy may hold onto power for the time being due to the lack
of a viable alternative, but we agree that further losses in
Spain's regional elections over the next two years will make
it difficult for him to remain the PP's national candidate in
2012. PP leaders have traditionally been members of Congress
due to the visibility afforded and the need for the
opposition leader to be able to confront the sitting
president directly in weekly debates, but some credible
voices are mentioning the name of former IMF director and
past Spanish Vice President Rodrigo Rato (now in the private
sector) as a possible candidate to lead the party into the
future.
Llorens

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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