In a surprise announcement, Esperanza Aguirre, who for nine years has held an iron grip on the Madrid regional government and was considered a powerful conservative force inside the ruling Popular Party (PP), stepped down on Monday citing “personal reasons.”
The sudden decision by the 60-year-old Aguirre sent shockwaves across Spain’s political spectrum. “I have called you here to announce my decision to resign from my posts as deputy in the regional assembly and regional premier,” the PP politician told the press at a hastily convened news conference.
“I have reached the conclusion that it is an appropriate moment to step down,” she continued, visibly moved and with tears in her eyes.
Deputy regional premier Ignacio González will take over the Madrid government, she said.
“I want to thank those who have voted for me. And those who never have,” Aguirre said during her speech. Aguirre was viewed by many as a possible successor as party leader to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. She said she had informed the prime minister of her decision earlier on Monday.
In a brief statement, Rajoy said that they held an “affectionate and intimate encounter” and he thanked her for “her long political career.” The prime minister said that he recognized that her decision was a personal one.
When she opened the floor to questions, the first query from the press referred to her health, given that in 2011 she made public a breast cancer diagnosis. Aguirre admitted that her health was one of the factors that influenced her decision, saying that her illness was very serious, but that she is “apparently cured.”
The now ex-premier said that she was tired, that politics is a job that requires a lot of dedication and effort and that she wants to spend more time with her family.
Madrid’s opposition Socialist leader Tomás Gómez, who lost the elections last year, said Aguirre’s resignation “opens a new period” in regional politics.