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Spain’s Popular Party elects hard-liner to replace Rajoy

MADRID — Spain’s opposition Popular Party has elected Pablo Casado to replace Mariano Rajoy as its leader, choosing a hard-liner who wants to stop the Socialist government from making concessions to Catalan separatists and from legalizing euthanasia.

Casado, 37, won a runoff vote Saturday against Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, a former deputy prime minister who had served under Rajoy, who was ousted as prime minister after losing a confidence vote in Parliament in early June.

During his campaign to lead the Popular Party, Casado criticized the new Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for offering to negotiate with the recently appointed Catalan government in Barcelona.

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“Dialogue doesn’t work with those who want to break the law,” Casado said recently, referring to lawmakers in Catalonia who illegally declared independence from Spain in October.

Casado has also condemned Sánchez’s recent proposal to legalize euthanasia, urging conservative voters to defend “without complex” the rights to life and the family.

The Popular Party’s new leader has proposed reintroducing a more restrictive law on abortion than the one passed by a previous Socialist administration, which allows terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

In his first term, Rajoy had tried to tighten the abortion law, but he eventually abandoned the idea after street protests.

Casado has also led opposition to Sánchez’s plan to exhume Francisco Franco, the dictator who was buried in the underground basilica he built after winning Spain’s civil war.

Within days of taking office, the new prime minister said his government wanted to give the former dictator a more modest burial place, as part of an effort to atone for the crimes of the civil war and the repression that followed the conflict.

“I would not spend one euro on exhuming Franco,” Casado recently said.

The two are, indeed, expected to clash over fiscal issues. Sánchez presented a budget plan this month that foresees higher public spending and corporate taxes. Casado has criticized the plan, promising instead to lower corporate taxes to increase Spain’s competitiveness.

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Sánchez leads a fragile Socialist government that holds one-quarter of the seats in Parliament and that relies on the continued support of the far-left party Podemos, as well as Basque and Catalan lawmakers who helped oust Rajoy.

The new prime minister does not have to call another general election until 2020, but Spain is set to hold municipal and regional elections in May; those results could determine whether Sánchez will be able to complete his term in office.

Still, Casado’s priority will be to reunite his own party, which was left bruised and fractured by the abrupt and unexpected ouster of Rajoy a week after his party was sentenced for operating a slush fund.

New York Times