Spain’s People’s Party backs Feijóo to restore his fortunes
Spain’s battered and battered opposition People’s Party proclaimed Alberto Núñez Feijóo, one of the country’s most experienced politicians, as its new leader on Saturday as it seeks to re-establish itself as a governing party.
The choice of Feijóo by 98% of the participants in a special congress in Seville follows the self-destruction of the former leadership in a fratricidal struggle against the PP.
“This is just the beginning . . . Spain deserves better,” said Feijóo, the longtime ruler of Galicia, the northwestern region that produced three of the centre-right party’s leaders in the over the PP’s 33 years of existence.
Calling for “adult” rather than “childhood” politics, he set himself the goals of lowering taxes, improving public services and increasing investment.
But the biggest challenge facing the 60-year-old is the rise of the far-right Vox party, which has snatched voters from the PP and now rivals it in the polls.
“Feijóo is the natural leader of the party, the person the PP should have chosen last time,” says Lucía Méndez, a leading Spanish journalist who has known the politician for 15 years.
“His main goal is to win back the votes his party lost to Vox – if he can’t do that, probably nobody can.”
Feijóo, who won his fourth consecutive absolute majority in Galician elections in 2020, presided over his region while the PP as a whole was rocked by the crisis.
The party was ejected from national power amid a corruption scandal in 2018 – after which Feijóo refused to run in a divisive leadership battle – and suffered its worst electoral defeat the following year.
Vox, which was formed by former PP politicians, then rose in the polls, winning 18% in regional elections in Castilla-León in February.
Soon after, then 41-year-old PP leader Pablo Casado was expelled after months of a debilitating internal party feud.
Party officials said this weekend’s congress was an attempt to “reset” the PP as a center-right, pro-European party. Coming from a region where the mother tongue is Galician, which shares roots with Portuguese, Feijóo declared the PP “the party of cordial bilingualism”.
His words were an apparent reach for regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, where the PP’s vote has collapsed – and marked a stark contrast to Vox, which has gained support in reaction to Catalan separatism and wants a Spain more centralized.
“Feijóo represents a pluralistic Spain, not a polarized Spain,” said an official, who cited Germany as a country that had been relatively successful in containing the hard right and who compared Galicia under Feijóo to the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, the regional sister party of the Christian Democrats. .
Feijóo took over as leader of his party in Galicia in 2006 from Manuel Fraga, the former Franco-era minister who founded the PP, and has maintained a wide range of support ever since. However, he was embroiled in controversy in 2013 when two-decade-old photos emerged showing him vacationing with a man convicted of drug dealing. Responding to the photos, Feijóo described her choice of vacation companion as naïve.
“National politics will be more difficult and more demanding for Feijóo than for Galicia,” Méndez said.
Some critics say Feijóo’s centrist politics will be strained by the need to strike deals with Vox – which is about to enter regional government for the first time, as the PP’s junior partner in Castile- Leon.
Méndez argued that Feijóo would be able to sideline Vox, just as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez largely excluded Podemos, the radical left party from his Socialist-led coalition.
But not everyone is convinced. “Feijóo has experience, he has shown that he knows how to manage,” said Lorenzo Bernaldo de Quirós, president of Freemarket, a Madrid-based consultancy, of the reserved Galician politician. “But the problem is that we don’t know what his plan is; we don’t know what he wants.