February 12, 2017
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was re-elected as the leader of the conservative Popular Party for a fourth term, sweeping 95 percent of the vote at a party congress in Madrid.
“It’s an honor because I have spent all my life in this party,” the 61-year-old Rajoy said Saturday night as he thanked party members. He ran unopposed. Hours later on Sunday, his political rival Pablo Iglesias likewise won a vote to maintain his leadership of the left-wing Podemos (“We Can”) party at its congress in the Spanish capital. The pony-tailed former political science professor fended off a challenge by the party’s No. 2 leader, Inigo Errejon, then called for party “unity and humility.”
“This is a party of the 21st century that advances alongside the people, while other parties are entrenched in the institutions,” Iglesias said in a fiery speech. Podemos erupted onto the political scene three years ago, harnessing the widespread discontent caused by the hard economic times and major corruption cases involving Spain’s traditional political parties. It became the third largest political force in the Spanish parliament last year.
Rajoy maintained most of the Popular Party’s leadership, including Maria Dolores de Cospedal, Spain’s minister of defense, as the party’s second-in-command. Rajoy has been Spanish prime minister since 2011, when he took power during a severe economic recession. He is credited with helping Spain avoid an international bailout. He has led a minority government since October when he won support from other parties to end 10 months of deadlock following two indecisive elections.
“Spain today doesn’t resemble the Spain when we took charge, not in growth, general welfare, employment, and, above all, confidence,” Rajoy said in a speech Sunday to close the party congress. “Some might think that our job is now easier because Spain is recovering, but it is also true that our (party’s) strength has weakened. We don’t have the majority. We must talk” with other parties in parliament.
Rajoy also addressed efforts by the regional government of Catalonia to secede from the rest of the Spain, which is the biggest challenge facing his government besides his party’s ongoing corruption scandals.
“We are not going to accept a referendum (on independence) that seeks to tear Spain apart,” Rajoy said.