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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 15:28 GMT
Profile: Aznar's hand-picked heir
Front-runner Mariano Rajoy of Popular Party
Rajoy promises to give Spaniards more of the same

The man chosen by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as his successor following the general election is Mariano Rajoy - the senior of Spain's two deputy prime ministers.

Given the significant lead Mr Aznar's Popular Party (PP) enjoys in the polls, he appears almost certain to get the top job after the 14 March poll.

At 48, Mr Rajoy is an experienced politician.

He comes from a prominent political family in the western region of Galicia, and his CV includes spells as minister for culture, education and the interior.

But his most challenging job so far has been his stint as deputy prime minister, in charge of explaining the government's policies.

'Yes-man'

In the past 18 months Mr Rajoy has had to defend the poor handling of a massive oil spill off the coast of his native Galicia, and Madrid's hugely unpopular support for the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Jose Maria Aznar, US Vice President Dick Cheney and House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert
Aznar has been a staunch ally of the US
The leader of the socialist opposition, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has called the deputy prime minister Mr Aznar's "yes-man".

But Mr Rajoy is widely regarded as performing in a cool, effective way during a difficult damage-limitation exercise. The war, notably, is no longer a major issue in Spain.

He is also credited with focusing voters' minds on the economic achievements of the PP.

Since Mr Aznar was first elected in 1996, unemployment has halved from 22% to 11% of the workforce; and 40% of new jobs in the EU since 2000 were created there.

Mr Rajoy has vowed to continue Mr Aznar's policies of economic liberalisation, tight budgets, and low taxes.

Style and substance

And commentators say Mr Rajoy has been an effective critic of his party's rivals - which include the socialist PSOE and the nationalist parties that dominate Catalonia's regional assembly.

"They have no political project, no experience, they don't believe in stability," he recently said.

Mr Rajoy promised to retain Mr Aznar's policy of offering no concessions to separatist movements, notably in the Basque region and Catalonia.

Although he is as determined as his predecessor to crush the violent Basque nationalists of Eta, some analysts believe he could be more flexible with political movements.

When Mr Rajoy was chosen as Mr Aznar's heir last year, non-violent separatist groups in both the Basque region and Catalonia welcomed the move.

The left-leaning newspaper El Pays wrote: "Spain can no longer bear the tension and constant adversarial politics of vilification that we have suffered."

In short Mr Rajoy offers a richer, contented Spain the same substantial policies - but a more relaxed style than that of his often prickly mentor.




SEE ALSO:
Spanish right chooses new leader
02 Sep 03  |  Europe
Aznar: The quiet man who roared
13 Mar 00  |  Europe


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