spanish politics

Spain’s PM Rajoy might run for a third term, but conditions apply

PP leader is waiting to see how events unfold in Catalonia before making a final decision

Mariano Rajoy posing with children in Madrid on Wednesday.
Mariano Rajoy posing with children in Madrid on Wednesday.Pablo Cuadra / Getty Images

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to run for office again, but his final decision will depend on how political and economic events unfold in the coming months – including the crisis in Catalonia and the fallout from the ongoing Gürtel corruption trials.

“My plan right now is to try to be a candidate again,” said the Popular Party (PP) leader on Wednesday in a radio interview with Spanish network Onda Cero. “My party has to want it too. Let’s see how things evolve, but I will certainly give it a try because we are headed in the right direction.”

Rajoy will run in the end. There is nobody better than him

High-ranking PP official

The statement aimed to allay concerns among the governing conservatives, who are facing mounting challenges from all sides: three simultaneous corruption probes (known as Gürtel, Púnica and Lezo); growing voter support for the center-right reform party Ciudadanos, and most notably the situation in Catalonia, where ousted premier Carles Puigdemont is attempting to get himself reappointed despite being a fugitive from justice.

Several high-ranking PP officials said that Rajoy’s statement suggests he might not run for a third term if his two main goals fail to materialize: a full economic recovery and a solution to the Catalan crisis.

These sources said it is unlikely that the economy will take a wrong turn between now and 2020, when Spain is due to hold new general elections. In that case, Catalonia will be the deciding factor in Rajoy’s bid for re-election.

And if he decides to go ahead, nobody will question his decision, said the officials.

“This is the first time that he has cast doubts on his own nomination as a candidate. But he will run in the end. There is nobody better than him,” said one PP official.

“He said that he feels strong enough, that he plans to run... and also that we’ll see how things go. Which means that he said yes and no at the same time,” noted a second party official. “The point was to not show any weakness in his internal and external authority, and to relay a message of calm for this country’s institutional stability.”

For the moment, Catalonia remains the government’s number-one problem. Everyone from the prime minister down knows that public opinion is closely watching how they will react to events in the coming days.

My plan right now is to try to be a candidate again

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

Rajoy is facing two nightmare scenarios. In the first, Puigdemont would attempt to show up inside the Catalan parliament just in time for the investiture vote, in order to get himself reappointed by the separatist majority before his arrest in connection with a Supreme Court investigation into rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Even though additional police officers have been deployed to the border to stop Puigdemont if he were to try to cross into Spain, the government fears that he might attempt anything, including hiding in the trunk of a car. This would mean “enormous ridicule” for Spanish institutions, according to government sources.

The other scenario involves Puigdemont trying to be sworn in remotely or by proxy, even though the Catalan parliament’s own legal experts have said this option is not allowed by the chamber’s procedural rules. Such a vote would not be legally valid and the government would immediately appeal it before the courts, but the public image would be highly damaging.

In his radio interview, Rajoy did not clear up whether he will accept to meet with Catalan parliament speaker Roger Torrent, a separatist deputy, to discuss Puigdemont’s nomination. But he did note that Article 155 of the Constitution would allow the central government not to recognize a fugitive from justice as the legal head of the Catalan government. The region’s affairs have been under Madrid’s control since separatist deputies passed a unilateral declaration of independence in late October.

Other issues

Other issues on Rajoy’s agenda include the corruption cases affecting his party. On Wednesday, a former official of the PP’s Valencia branch admitted to the existence of illegal party financing in that region, although he shielded national leaders from any involvement.

The PM is also struggling to get the 2018 budget approved. Two of the parties that had pledged to support the blueprint are now withholding that support: Ciudadanos wants the PP to remove a senator from her post because of her involvement in a corruption probe, and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) says no support will be forthcoming until Catalonia’s self-rule is restored.

English version by Susana Urra.

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