Irish Times view on the reconfiguration of Spanish politics

New Partido Popular leader Pablo Casado’s decisive election and hard-line positions reflect a nostalgia for traditionalist values and set scene for future clashes

Pablo Casado has triumphed to become leader of Partido Popular after an unprecedentedly divisive internal contest in a party that usually displays monolithic unity in public. Photograph: Javier Barbancho/Reuters

Pablo Casado has triumphed to become leader of Partido Popular after an unprecedentedly divisive internal contest in a party that usually displays monolithic unity in public. Photograph: Javier Barbancho/Reuters

 

The decisive election of the vocally right-wing Pablo Casado (37) as leader of Spain’s Partido Popular (PP) is a further instance of the radical reconfigurations changing the country’s political culture in recent years. Casado triumphed after an unprecedentedly divisive internal contest in a party that usually displays monolithic unity in public.

His defeated rival, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, originally the favourite to win, represented the party bureaucracy and continuity with the previous PP leader, the doggedly pragmatic Mariano Rajoy. In one sense, then, Casado’s victory reflects a worldwide trend of disenchantment with established politicians. But despite his relative youth, Casado is deeply rooted in the party machine and underlying ideology.

Casado’s highly rhetorical, and probably decisive, speech at Saturday’s party convention was a clear attempt to woo Ciudadanos voters

Indeed, his hardline positions reflect a nostalgia for the traditionalist values of party founder Manuel Fraga who had served as a minister during the Franco dictatorship, and of Fraga’s successor, José María Aznar, who mentored Casado. Aznar has become an increasingly strident critic of Rajoy’s “blandness” and “weakness” since the Catalan crisis, strange though this may appear to anyone who witnessed images of police attacking pro-independence voters last October. Nevertheless, since 2015, the PP’s long-unquestioned hegemony across the Spanish right has come under dynamic challenge from a new party, Ciudadanos, which espouses unabashed Spanish nationalism, largely in reaction to events in Catalonia.

Casado’s highly rhetorical, and probably decisive, speech at Saturday’s party convention was a clear attempt to woo Ciudadanos voters and those even further to the right in the newer formation Vox. His policies, he said, would bring back to the party “everyone to the right of the Socialist Party (PSOE)”, and reconnect with “the Spaniards who display the national flag on their balconies”.

He will consider banning pro-independence Catalan and Basque parties and changing election rules so that even moderate Basque and Catalan groupings cannot influence the regional policies of Spanish governments. He defends “the family and life”, rejecting Spain’s current liberal abortion regime. He opposes the “historical memory” movement that seeks to identify and honour the victims of the Franco dictatorship whose bodies remain in unmarked mass graves.

Casado’s policies also reflect another worldwide trend: the prioritisation of national identity over democratic values

On all these points he will clash very sharply with the new minority PSOE government which ousted Rajoy from office last month. Neither Casado nor his rivals for the PP leadership offered any detailed proposals for eradicating the corruption which has long proved endemic in the party.

Casado’s policies also reflect another worldwide trend: the prioritisation of national identity over democratic values. Ironically, this disturbing tendency is also manifest in the more radical sectors of the Catalan independence movement that Casado so excoriates.

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