Mariano Rajoy, also known as Pappa Smurf to my readers, has not had a happy time since he succeeded José María Aznar as leader of the Partido Popular.
He seemed assured of victory in the 2004 General Election until the Madrid bombings intervened and his party’s handling of the aftermath saw the PP ejected from power. Since then he has again been defeated at the 2008 General Election by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s PSOE. To say his leadership has been under pressure amidst party scandals and other problems is to put it mildly.
Up till now, despite the economic crisis, the ruling socialist party has stayed ahead in the national opinion polls. However there is a glimmer of hope for Rajoy. An important shift in public support may be underway if the soundings for the European Parliament elections in June hold true.
According to polls published on Sunday in the Spanish national newspapers the Partido Popular has edged to a 4.5 point lead over PSOE in the June Euro elections.
This will be worrying news for the socialist government in the week after Zapatero reshuffled his government. It also comes on the back of a 70 billion euro government stimulus package to keep the economy afloat. However unemployment in Spain has almost doubled from pre-crisis levels to 15.5 percent - the highest rate in the European Union. Yet despite all that Zapatero and PSOE have put in showings in the opinion polls that Gordon Brown and his Labour Party would smear for.
In all probability the Euro Elections will be the last chance for Rajoy to win and stay at the helm of the PP. If he wins, he will survive for now and be given a springboard for the 2012 General Election. But, given that his party now has a slender lead, he goes on to another defeat – what then?