Rajoy Steps Down as Party Leader. Here Are His Possible Successors

Three women and two men are tipped as possible future leaders of Spain’s conservative People’s Party.

Then-Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría of Spain gives a news conference in Madrid, October 13, 2017
Then-Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría of Spain gives a news conference in Madrid, October 13, 2017 (La Moncloa)

Mariano Rajoy has stepped down as leader of Spain’s center-right People’s Party.

Resignation was inevitable after Rajoy became the first prime minister in Spanish democratic history to be removed from office last week. The opposition Socialists cobbled together a majority consisting of left-wing and regionalist parties to end the conservative’s six-and-a-half year tenure.

Possible successors

Spanish media report that three women and two men are in the race to succeed Rajoy:

  • Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, a former deputy prime minister and one of Rajoy’s closest allies. When Spain suspended Catalonia’s autonomy in the wake of the controversial October 1 referendum last year, Rajoy put her in charge of the region.
  • María Dolores de Cospedal, the former defense minister and current party secretary. Established a reputation as a staunch fiscal conservative during her time as regional president of Castilla-La Mancha.
  • Ana Pastor Julián, a former cabinet minister and the incumbent speaker of parliament.
  • Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the regional president of Galicia, Rajoy’s home state.
  • Alfonso Alonso, a former health minister. Fairly low-profile, but the fact that he’s Basque could make him an interesting choice. Many in the region sympathize with the Catalan independence cause.

Down in the polls

Whoever prevails is unlikely to become prime minister soon.

Polls put support for the People’s Party at a dismal 16 to 20 percent, behind the Socialists, who are at 20-24 percent, and the liberal Citizens, who would become the largest party of Spain with 24-28 percent support. That makes a centrist coalition government of the Citizens and Socialists the most likely outcome of early elections.