Spain’s deputy PM conspicuous by her presence
Popular Party’s number two could be more acceptable if a coalition has to be negotiated
Spanish vice prime minister Soraya Saez de Santamaria: not only is she on posters across Spain, but in the media she is seemingly omnipresent. Photograph: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/EPA
Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría is everywhere. The deputy prime minister’s face is on thousands of election campaign posters for her governing Popular Party (PP), coyly smiling at Spaniards from walls and lampposts across the country, under the slogan España en serio (roughly translated as “Spain for real”).
That in itself is hardly unexpected, given that a general election will be held on December 20th. However, what has started to surprise many Spaniards is how Sáenz de Santamaría seems to be vying with prime minister Mariano Rajoy as the face of the government.
Not only is she on posters across Spain, but in the media she is seemingly omnipresent. Besides a barrage of current affairs interviews she has been hot-air ballooning and hiking with the country’s best-known outdoor TV personality, Jesús Calleja. She also gave a spirited choreographed dance performance to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars on the irreverent prime time show El Homiguero.
“Her appearance on the main entertainment shows seems to suggest the systematic promotion of her as a personality, going much further than the typical election campaign of someone who is merely running for a seat in congress,” noted the columnist Antonio Papell.
That theory has been fuelled by the performance of the relatively new Ciudadanos party. Having previously been restricted to the Catalan region, it went nationwide late last year as a self-styled centrist force, before overtaking fellow upstart (but left-wing) party Podemos in polls.
The most recent poll by Metroscopia showed Ciudadanos in a three-way tie with the governing PP and the socialists.
With Spain’s electoral system favouring the two traditional parties, Ciudadanos is no more than an outside bet to win most seats on December 20th. But its leader, the 36-year-old Albert Rivera, is seen as a likely kingmaker given that a coalition government is expected to emerge after the vote.
Rivera has ruled out partnering Rajoy after the election, due to the many corruption scandals that have plagued the prime minister.
There is speculation that Ciudadanos would, however, support a PP led by the relatively untarnished young deputy prime minister.
The leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, raised the issue before his supporters in Hospitalet, in Catalonia, at the weekend. “A question for you, Albert,” he said. “You’ve said you wouldn’t support Mariano Rajoy as prime minister, but would you be prepared to support Soraya?”
The image of Sáenz de Santamaría as a prime minister-in-waiting was compounded on Monday, when she took part in a debate with the leaders of the other three main parties. An accomplished media performer, unlike the hesitant Rajoy, she performed reasonably well, although one of her most uncomfortable moments came when she was asked why her media-shy boss and mentor was not present.
“We’re a team and our responsibilities are shared,” she replied, provoking snorts of derision from her adversaries.
“If Rajoy had no alternative other than to commit political suicide in order to save the PP, with Sáenz de Santamaría as leader he could continue to guide the party,” said El Español newspaper, which described this as “the tightest electoral race in our history”.
Both Rivera and the deputy prime minister, meanwhile, have been dismissive of the theory, at least in public.
“I don’t care about Operation Menina,” Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría told reporters on Sunday. “We’re going to win the elections.”