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article imageRajoy: Spain's great survivor bows out

By Marianne BARRIAUX (AFP)     Jun 5, 2018 in World

He was known as the great survivor of Spanish politics but on Tuesday, Mariano Rajoy conceded defeat as he quit as head of his Popular Party (PP) just days after being ousted as prime minister.

The man variously described as an uncharismatic and rigid do-nothing or a stellar strategist with strong political acumen had already been seriously rattled by a successful no-confidence vote Friday instigated by his rival, Socialist party chief Pedro Sanchez.

But given the 63-year-old bespectacled leader's track record of patiently biding his time as rivals fretted around him, political analysts were all but certain he would stay on as PP chief.

That was not to be.

"The PP must keep advancing and building its history at the service of Spaniards under the leadership of another person," he told the party's national executive committee on Tuesday.

"I'm aware of the huge loyalty I've had from all of you until the last day. It's been incredible."

At which point his party allies rose to applaud him. "Please someone stop, for god's sake," he said.

Anton Losada, a politics professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela who wrote a book about Rajoy, said he was stunned.

"He's surprised us all," he told AFP.

- Survived crises, crash -

His resignation represents a spectacular turn of events for the man who had managed to emerge relatively unscathed from a series of crises, and even walked from a 2005 helicopter crash with just a broken finger.

Mariano Rajoy was rattled by a successful no-confidence vote instigated by his rival  Socialist part...
Mariano Rajoy was rattled by a successful no-confidence vote instigated by his rival, Socialist party chief Pedro Sanchez
OSCAR DEL POZO, AFP/File

Despite corruption scandals that hit his conservative PP and deeply unpopular austerity measures taken during his first term, the party was re-elected in 2015.

It may have lost voters and its absolute majority, but it still came first.

The next 10 months saw an unprecedented political crisis, marked by the failure of Rajoy's bickering rivals to agree on an alternative government. Fresh elections were held and the PP won again.

In October 2016, Rajoy was sworn in as prime minister for a second term at the head of a minority government, a respectable comeback even if he was weakened.

More trouble followed, not least Catalonia's failed attempt to break from Spain last October.

There again, he was criticised for doing little to ease the situation but his eventual imposition of direct rule on the deeply divided northeastern region did not spark the unrest many had expected.

The latest corruption scandal involving a PP slush fund damaged him badly however, with the court questioning the credibility of his testimony as it jailed 29 people.

In his speech Tuesday, Rajoy defended his record as prime minister and also his way of doing politics.

"The hardest and most useful thing to do is not to budge when it's not necessary," he said.

And that's just what his critics hated, saying Rajoy governed by sitting back -- or going on one of his much-loved power walks -- and waiting for whichever storm was lashing Spain to blow over.

- 'Full of Spanish people' -

Mariano Rajoy is married to Elvira Fernandez  who is very rarely seen in public
Mariano Rajoy is married to Elvira Fernandez, who is very rarely seen in public
JOSE JORDAN, AFP/File

Satirists liked to mock Rajoy's infamous truisms -- Spain "is a great country full of Spanish people" was one such declaration in 2015.

But while his talent did not lie in speech-making, he often shone in parliament with witty repartee, earning smiles and even laughs from rivals he was attacking.

On the personal front, little is known about the married father-of-two, and his wife Elvira Fernandez is very rarely seen in public.

Born in 1955 in Santiago de Compostela in the conservative northwestern Galicia region, Rajoy is the eldest son of a provincial court president.

Trained as a lawyer, Rajoy turned to politics at a young age, joining the Popular Alliance, the party founded by ministers of former dictator Francisco Franco which later became the PP.

He later became the right-hand man of Jose Maria Aznar, who led Spain from 1996 to 2004, serving in several ministerial posts.

Aznar appointed him as his successor, but Rajoy went on to lose two general elections to the Socialists before voters finally handed him the premiership in 2011 as Spain suffered the ravages of an economic crisis.

With an absolute majority in parliament, Rajoy implemented deeply unpopular severe spending cuts and labour law reforms.

A series of corruption scandals also caused fury at a time of deep economic crisis.

And corruption was what -- in the end -- precipitated his downfall.

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