[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 14:10 GMT
Aznar: The quiet man who roared
Aznar made the right respectable again afer the Franco years
Jose Maria Aznar does not look like the kind of man who transformed the political landscape of a nation.

Spanish cartoonists took great delight in caricaturing his shortness, while commentators harped on his career beginnings as a provincial tax inspector - pointing out that he looked more like a small-town bureaucrat than a leading statesman.

Mr Aznar himself admitted that he was no great orator. "I am a quiet man who grows through adversity," he once remarked.

His triumph was that he was able to make the right respectable again after the long years of fascist dictatorship.

From a right-wing family background - his grandfather was a friend of the dictator General Franco - Mr Aznar did not enter politics until his mid-20s, but was a member of parliament before his 30th birthday.

Originally part of the mainstream of right-wing thinking in the Popular Party, Mr Aznar later announced his intention to build "a major party of the centre".

The party captured the middle ground of Spanish politics by referring to itself as centrist, or centre-right, rather than as right-wing.

In religion, too, Mr Aznar took a moderate stance. A devout Catholic who attends mass each Sunday, he distanced himself from the moralistic stance taken by the Spanish religious establishment in Franco's time.

International profile

Mr Aznar was barely known outside Spain when, in 1996, he led the Popular Party to end the 14-year rule of Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.

He was re-elected in 2000, the first time a party of the right gained an absolute majority in parliament since democracy was restored in 1977.

His international profile was raised considerably when, in the US-led build up to war against Iraq in early 2003, he allied himself closely with the positions of Washington and London in backing military action.

But Mr Aznar faced heavy domestic criticism for this, and for sending more than 1,000 soldiers to Iraq to help the post-war reconstruction.

His government also received flak over its handling of the Prestige oil tanker disaster in 2003. The sunken tanker spilled thousands of tons of fuel oil into the waters off Spain, Portugal and France, causing serious damage to the fishing and tourism industries.

His supporters regarded his economic policies as his greatest success, and saw him as the architect of Spain's new-found prosperity.

By overhauling the tax and welfare benefits system, and clamping down on corruption, Mr Aznar made Spanish taxpayers feel they were getting better value for money.

He also halved Spain's unemployment rate, though it was at 11% at the end of his era in power - the highest in Europe.

Mr Aznar once said that politicians should "speak less but act more". His success demonstrated that as far as the Spanish electorate was concerned, deeds count for more than words.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific