POLITICS

Acting PM Rajoy has barely met in person with king since election

Investiture process has increased the distance between the conservative leader and the monarch

Queen Letizia signs a book of condolence in the presence of King Felipe (right) and the Belgian ambassador.
Queen Letizia signs a book of condolence in the presence of King Felipe (right) and the Belgian ambassador.J. GUILLÉN (EFE)

King Felipe VI and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have hardly had any working meetings since the December 20 general election.

Before that, the heads of state and government would hold weekly face-to-face sessions, and the royal palace sometimes released photographs of these encounters.

Neither La Moncloa, the prime minister’s residence, nor La Zarzuela royal palace would confirm on Wednesday the date of the last one-on-one meeting between Rajoy and Felipe VI.

Neither La Moncloa nor La Zarzuela royal palace would confirm the date of the last one-on-one meeting between Rajoy and Felipe

A spokesperson for the royal family said that both men were “in touch by telephone.”

“I haven’t spoken with the king, but he is perfectly up-to-date with information,” said Rajoy at noon on Tuesday, nearly four hours after the attacks in Brussels.

By comparison, both men spoke shortly after the Paris attacks on November 13. The difference between both cases illustrates how the relationship has cooled ever since Rajoy, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), became the head of a caretaker government.

A growing rift

This distancing began on January 22, when La Zarzuela said in a release that Rajoy had turned down the king’s offer to stand as the prime ministerial candidate at the first investiture session in Congress. This offer was made on the basis that the PP won the most seats (123) at the inconclusive December election.

With the winning candidate refusing to stand for office – Rajoy knew that he lacked support from other parties and would be voted down – the king then made the same offer to the second best-performing candidate, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party.

Many members of the PP had hoped that Felipe VI would not offer the nomination to anyone else, thus giving Rajoy more time to drum up support for a successful bid.

Sánchez, who only had 90 seats and also lacked sufficient support from other forces, tried anyway, leading Rajoy to call the investiture vote “a farce” and a piece of “vaudeville.”

Felipe VI has only made three speeches since his Christmas address, compared with the 20 he delivered over the same period last year

Rajoy also accused the Socialist leader of misleading the king, suggesting that Felipe VI had allowed himself to be tricked by Pedro Sánchez.

Even before that, Rajoy had already been heard discussing the likelihood of a fresh election in Spain with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The acting government is taking it for granted that this will be inevitable, and is refusing to submit to congressional oversight of its actions, alleging that Congress has no mandate to control a caretaker government.

The acting government’s interpretation of its own job description has also had an impact on the Spanish Crown. Since his traditional Christmas address, Felipe VI has only made three speeches, compared with the 20 he delivered over the same period last year. The king has also canceled four trips: to Saudi Arabia, Britain, Japan and South Korea. La Zarzuela is especially pained at the second cancellation, as it has been three decades since the last such royal trip to the UK, and Elizabeth II only organizes two state visits a year.

English version by Susana Urra.

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