Rajoy calls 600 officials to Madrid to discuss Popular Party’s future

Meeting of National Executive Committee will address ways to improve the group’s image

Mariano Rajoy will send out a message of optimism on Tuesday.
Mariano Rajoy will send out a message of optimism on Tuesday.ULY MARTÍN

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called 600 officials from the governing Popular Party (PP) to an extraordinary meeting of the National Executive Committee, a top internal body, where he will address demands for a party overhaul ahead of elections.

The last time such a meeting was held was two years ago, to contain the fallout from the Bárcenas case, involving a former PP treasurer who is alleged to have run a slush fund for the party.

Delegates who show up in Madrid on Tuesday will have to come up with quick ideas to reform a party that is heading straight for a debacle at the polls eight weeks from now, according to opinion polls.

On May 24, the PP’s grip over much of Spain – it currently holds power in 3,500 mayor’s offices and 11 regional governments – could be seriously compromised.

Following the PP’s poor showing in early regional elections in Andalusia last month, conservative candidates and officials are afraid that voters might express similar sentiment in a vote that is considered a sign of the way the general election will go in the fall.

The PP enjoyed a landslide victory in November 2011 at a time when Spain was in the grip of the economic crisis, and the ruling Socialist Party was being blamed for budget cuts and layoffs.

The meeting

  • The National Executive Committee is the most important body within the Popular Party in between party congresses.

  • Invitations have been issued to party leaders, members of the Spanish and European parliaments, regional premiers and the top officials in each of the 52 provinces. In total, around 600 people are expected in Madrid on Tuesday.

  • It will be the first time the Committee has convened in the last two years.

  • The previous meeting of the Committee was held on April 3, 2013 in the middle of the Bárcenas scandal. Mariano Rajoy stated at the end of the gathering that the case would soon be "history."

  • Issues that will likely be addressed are what strategy to follow with a view to municipal and regional elections on May 24 following the Andalusian fiasco, improving communication with voters, and possible changes to party leadership.

But despite an incipient recovery, Rajoy will have a harder time convincing Spaniards to vote for him this time around because of widespread corruption accusations and because of the emergence of new parties such as Podemos and Ciudadanos, whose anti-establishment and anti-corruption messages have struck a chord with many disgruntled voters.

As a result, Rajoy is planning changes to improve party morale and win back votes. The National Executive Committee is the only party body with the power to effect changes to management, although sources consulted for this story did not think that Rajoy would go as far as to replace party leaders so close the the elections.

Many PP officials have expressed a desire to have a person with no official duties take over the party leadership to assist, or even replace, the current secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal. But sources said Rajoy will not be making any such changes next week.

“Removing Cospedal would take away her authority as a candidate to re-election to the premiership of Castilla-La Mancha, one of the governments that the PP hopes to retain,” said one high-ranking party official.

Other sources noted that it is not in Rajoy’s style to bow to pressure and that he is more likely to send out a message of optimism and announce some kind of social measures to appease angry voters and show them that the much-heralded economic recovery is trickling down to households.

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