‘Peak Mariano’

So he’s done it. Three hundred and thirteen days after an inconclusive general election, 125 days after its re-run and 58 days after a failed first attempt, Mariano Rajoy has formed a government, with the help of the Socialist Party.

With the wobbliest minority administration Spain has seen in its modern era, he now faces a difficult task. As the three other main parties in Congress prepare to act as opposition forces of varying degrees of aggression, he won’t be able to push legislation through parliament in the way he did so easily between 2011 and 2015. He may not even last the course of another full legislature.

And yet, in relative terms, Rajoy and his Popular Party (PP) are in a stronger position than they were back in December 2015, before that election, because so many of his adversaries have suffered. The most obvious of these is former Socialist boss Pedro Sánchez, whose resistance to backing Rajoy was a major cause of the coup which saw him lose his job.

But beyond the messy Sanchexit of three weeks ago, there are others whose humbling now gives the Galician cause to gloat. The dissenters in his own PP; the rabble-rousers of the New Left; the arrivistes of the New Right; the political obituary writers; the trolls; the naysayers and the piss-takers – all have been defeated, defied or somehow diminished in recent months.

What has Rajoy done to deserve such a resounding victory? Well, nothing really. Ever since he turned down King Felipe’s invitation to form a government in January, citing a lack of parliamentary support, the acting prime minister has been pretty passive, even by his standards.

La Vanguardia newspaper talks about how “a veritable mythology has been built up around the prime minister’s ability to keep still when faced with the most serious problems, in the hope that time will solve them.” I have explored this “mythology” in some depth elsewhere, but without a doubt, the politician known and lampooned for his refusal to take the initiative has taken this trait – or strategy – to a whole new level over the last 10 months.

Rajoy would argue that he reached out to the Socialists, but it was never more than a tokenistic gesture, with no proposals on the table. He did sign a deal with Ciudadanos, but then gave the impression immediately afterwards that it didn’t really mean much to him. And he never seemed to countenance the possibility of stepping aside to make a governing pact more palatable to his rivals.

It’s been a period of Rajoy in extremis. ‘Peak Mariano’, if you will. And while you could argue that it has done the country plenty of harm, you couldn’t claim that it has hurt its exponent.

In this respect, Sánchez, at least for a time, was the opposite, seeking to reach for the unreachable, forming first a pact with Ciudadanos, before ambitiously trying to extend that deal to Podemos. The erstwhile Socialist leader’s biggest fault was this: he wasn’t living in Spain. Instead, he inhabited a non-specific, imaginary European nation where rampant corruption is punished at the ballot box and where talking to populists and nationalists is not a sackable offence.

Rajoy lives in no such place. In fact, you could say that his greatest asset is not his extraordinary ability to sit tight, but rather the fact that he knows only too well which country he is living in.

Author: hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a freelance print and broadcast journalist who has been based in Madrid since 2003. Guy has covered Spain for the BBC, The Irish Times, Politico, Associated Press and Deutsche Welle and previously he was editor-in-chief of El País newspaper's English edition and founding editor of Spanish news website Iberosphere. Before living in Spain he worked as a journalist in Ecuador.

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