Everything You Need to Know About the Conservative Primary in Spain

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría is the favorite, but Pablo Casado has mounted a surprisingly strong right-wing challenge.

Spanish People's Party leaders Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Pablo Casado
Spanish People’s Party leaders Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Pablo Casado (La Moncloa/PP)

The battle for the leadership of the Spanish right is now a two-person race: Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Pablo Casado have emerged from a poll of party members as the frontrunners.

Sáenz de Santamaría, the former deputy prime minister and a confidant of outgoing People’s Party leader Mariano Rajoy, won 37 percent support against 34 percent for Casado, an ambitious right-wing lawmaker and the party’s communications chief.

Former defense minister María Dolores de Cospedal placed third with 26 percent support. She is expected to throw her support behind Casado.

The voting system

The People’s Party uses a two-round voting system to elect its leader.

In the first round, which was held on July 5, all registered party members could vote in an open primary. Only 67,000 out of 870,000 members did.

The two top vote-getters advance to a second round, which will be held during a party congress on July 20-21. There, 3,134 party delegates will choose the winner.

The odds

Sáenz de Santamaría is the favorite, but not by much. Only one poll has put her opponent in the lead, but that is among conservative voters generally and the polls underestimated Casado’s support in the first round.

The expectation is that party delegates will fall in line behind the establishment-backed Sáenz de Santamaría, but there is no evidence to support that.

Among the electorate at large, she is the more popular candidate.

Analysis

  • Lluís Orriols, a political scientist, argues in El País that Sáenz de Santamaría is the stronger candidate. She gets higher ratings from center-right voters who have defected to the liberal Citizens.

The Citizens stand for cleaning up Spanish politics and take a hard line against the Catalan independence movement. They have surpassed the People’s Party in recent polls.

  • El Mundo, a conservative newspaper, has all but endorsed Sáenz de Santamaría, warning in its editorial that a split on the right can only benefit the minority Socialist government.
  • Ramón Pérez-Maura, a columnist, cautions against underestimating Casado. He writes in ABC, another right-wing newspaper, that Casado’s unexpected second-place finish reflects a desire for a more assertive conservatism.

The view from Catalonia

  • La Vanguardia doesn’t have a preference for either candidate, but the largest newspaper of Catalonia is glad to be rid of Rajoy, whose tenure, it writes, was characterized by “corruption and mishaps”.
  • El Nacional, a separatist outlet, argues that Sáenz de Santamaría and Casado are vying to see “who can be the most reactionary, the farthest to the right and, especially, who can be the most belligerent toward the Catalan independence movement.”