Esperanza Aguirre didn’t give any clear indications on Monday why she was giving up her coveted post as Madrid regional premier, which opens up all types of speculation. But judging by her strong character and her passion for politics, it is clear that her reasons for quitting must be very powerful ones.
One of those could be her health condition, but it is not the only, or perhaps the most potent, justification. There could be other matters related to her position within the Popular Party (PP), where she probably has been unable to find ways to fulfill her political aspirations.
Aguirre came to the regional premier’s office in 2003 following a dark episode in which Socialist deputies Eduardo Tamayo and María Teresa Sáez betrayed Socialist Rafael Simancas, who could no longer head up a coalition government with the United Left (IU).
A veteran politician, Aguirre has governed Madrid with an iron fist thanks to the carte blanche support she has had from the regional assembly where the PP has an absolute majority.
From this regional perch she was able to challenge her PP political enemy at City Hall, longtime Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, and even publicly convey her differences with party chief Mariano Rajoy on more than one occasion.
She has been victorious, not only in her own electoral battles, but also in internal party fights. Aguirre has never held back her tongue; she has always spoken her mind, even sometimes going against the party’s official line.
But arriving at this point, Aguirre perhaps believes her political career has hit a brick wall, which no doubt could be an emotional turning point for her. Even her right-hand man, Ignacio González, some months back was also showing signs of burnout and fatigue as if his deputy regional premier’s post was just too small for his stature.
Actions taken over the past year — most significantly the forced resignation of former commissioner Francisco Granados from the PP Madrid secretary general’s post and his replacement by González — are clear indications that the deputy premier and his boss wanted to expand their influence. Judging by these chess-piece movements, the final objective was to form a powerful political alliance that would tighten the screws on Rajoy. However, Rajoy’s election victory last year and his consolidation of the party’s national leadership put an end, at least for the moment, to the aspirations of the Aguirre-González duo.
Even the now-outgoing regional premier acknowledged during her surprise appearance before cameras on Monday that she held back making her decision public until she spoke with Rajoy — another inkling of support for the argument that there are political reasons, apart from her personal reasons, behind the resignation.
What was the motive of Aguirre’s request for a meeting with Rajoy? For the moment, the answer isn’t clear. Talk inside the party suggests that Aguirre tried one final time to push Rajoy into a corner, looking for a better position for herself, but when she didn’t accomplish this, she was forced to throw in the towel.
The situation in the Madrid government is temporarily resolved as González steps into the premier’s post. However it is a more complicated issue inside the PP’s Madrid chapter once Aguirre also steps downs as head of a party she managed skillfully without any major problems.