Sunday, April 21

Spain’s conservative People’s party to ‘reboot’ with new leader | Spain


Spain’s conservative People’s party (PP) will gather in Seville on Friday and Saturday to install a new leader and attempt a “reboot” after almost four years of infighting, strategic errors and ideological flip-flopping that have left it in danger of being eclipsed by its rivals in the far-right Vox party.

Pablo Casado, who has led Spain’s biggest rightwing party since July 2018, has been forced to stand down amid terminal discontent at the highest levels of the PP. That dissatisfaction came to a head in mid-February when Casado publicly announced that the party was investigating Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the PP president of the Madrid region – an outspoken politician often touted as his rival – for alleged corruption.

The confrontation, which followed a disappointing result for the party in February’s regional election in Castilla y León, proved a miscalculation too far for Casado.

This weekend, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who won four consecutive terms as president of the north-western Spanish region of Galicia, will be voted in as Casado’s successor.

The party hopes that Feijóo, who is habitually described as a moderate, will steer the PP back to the political centre-ground while still winning back the voters who have deserted the party in favor of Vox. The far-right party, which was founded nine years ago by former PP members, is now the third biggest grouping in parliament and is nipping at its parent party’s heels in the polls.

“The party has been through a very difficult time and we’re going into the conference not to re-establish the party but to start over again,” said a PP source. “This conference is about switching off and resetting just as you would when your computer stops working.”

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They said the time had come “to heal wounds, end rifts and to come together for a greater aim, which is to give Spain a good government”. To do so, the party would set about highlighting its “centrist, reformist” history.

“A big party has to try to pick up votes to its right and to its left; to be a catch-all party,” the source added. “We need to have a plurality of voices within the PP and we need those voices to talk to each other. The key – and this is what makes us a centrist party – is dialogue.”

Pablo Casado has been forced to stand down amid discontent at the highest levels of the PP. Photograph: Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images

Casado, who pledged to “win back the hearts of all Spaniards” when he was elected, has had a complicated relationship with Vox. The outgoing leader dragged the PP further to the right to stop voters defecting to Vox, enlisted its support to prop up three PP-led regional administrations and recently gave the go-ahead for a PP-Vox coalition to govern Castilla y León.

But he has also occasionally rounded on his sometime allies. In October 2020, he accused Vox of practicing a politics based on “fear, anger, resentment and revenge” and of peddling a “demagoguery that offers easy – and usually fake – solutions to complex problems”.

Such ideological lane-changing confused PP voters and many within the party – as did the failed showdown with Ayuso. The PP’s internal squabbling has left the party unable to capitalize on discontent with Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government as the country suffers the highest rate of inflation since 1985, soaring energy prices and protests by farmers and hauliers.

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The aim now is to jettison the mistakes of the Casado era and start again in Seville.

Although the PP source pointed out that parties across the European right were struggling to deal with the threat of a resurgent far right – “with varying degrees of success” – they said their own party needed to sound less like Vox and more like itself.

The PP is keen to emphasize Feijóo’s track record as an experienced statesman who represents “the Spain of the constitution of 1978”, which enabled the country’s transition to democracy after General Franco’s death.

The same has not always been true of Feijóo’s predecessor. Despite a farewell speech to congress that lauded “national unity” and the importance of “respecting one’s adversaries”, Casado has previously stood in the chamber and described the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, as a “traitor, squatter, villain, catastrophe, hostage and compulsive liar”.

His commitment to national unity has also been called into question by the time he inadvertently attended a mass at which prayers were said for Franco’s soul on the 46th anniversary of the dictator’s death, and by his contention that the Spanish civil war was “a confrontation between those who wanted a democracy without law and those who wanted law without democracy”.

Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University, said he expected the PP’s change of leadership would be rewarded with “a mini-honeymoon” in the polls as the party prepared for this year’s key regional election in Andalucía, adding: “If the PP does well, that will give Feijóo a boost and help them with the Vox situation.”

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Simón said one of Feijóo’s biggest challenges would be balancing internal party pressures with the threat posed by its far-right rivals. “Feijóo’s obviously a liberal conservative who will talk about all the usual things – lowering taxes, moderation etc,” he said. “But for me, the important thing will be which route he takes. Is he going to go: ‘Look, I’m going to do what the PP has always done and I’m going to start off by basing my agenda on economic issues’? Or is he going to get into the whole cultural war thing with Vox? I think the first option is more likely than the second.”


www.theguardian.com

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