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'Boring' Rajoy Picked To Save Spain From Default
Originally published on Mon November 21, 2011 6:50 am
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Spain is the latest country to change its government over Europe's economic crisis. In a parliamentary election yesterday, Spaniards voted overwhelmingly to toss out the socialists who have ruled for almost eight years. They brought in Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative Popular Party.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
INSKEEP: And people cheered, as we heard there. But the celebrations will likely be brief. Mr. Rajoy faces the daunting task of reassuring jittery bond markets, saving his country from default, and putting people back to work. Lauren Frayer in Madrid sent us this profile of the prime minister designate.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Holiday shopping has begun, but copies of Mariano Rajoy's memoir pile up at this bookstore. No one is buying them. It could be the economy, or something in the way Spaniards, like shopper Jorge Belena, see the man they've just elected as their next prime minister.
JORGE BELENA: All politicos are very boring, but I think he's especially boring.
FRAYER: But boring may be exactly what voters wanted. More than one in five Spaniards is out of work. Nearly a million empty homes stand as expensive reminders of the housing bust. Bond rates are pushing toward levels that sent Greece, Portugal and Ireland into the bailout zone.
Spaniards aren't looking for charisma. They want someone to get them out of this mess. Fernando Fernandez is an economist at Madrid's IE Business School who met recently with Rajoy.
FERNANDO FERNANDEZ: He's not a flamboyant person. He doesn't have to be popular. He doesn't need to be even well-known. He knows he's sort of a gray, hard-working individual.
FRAYER: Rajoy is best known for losing two previous elections. Until now, his biggest feat was surviving a freak helicopter accident with only a broken finger. Fernandez says Rajoy is part of a wave of graying but capable bureaucrats taking control of Europe's weakest economies.
FERNANDEZ: He's much more like Mario Monti than Berlusconi. He's a civil servant, fully aware of his responsibility to save the country.
FRAYER: For Spaniards, Rajoy's charm is that he's not a socialist, the party in power as the economy tanked. He picked up on a desire for change that you hear all over this country, with comments like this...
MARIANO RAJOY: (Spanish spoken)
FRAYER: Are we going to continue with the same politics, or are we going to handle things in another manner, Rajoy said in a TV debate, adding: I think Spain needs a change, and quick.
That was enough for voters. Things are so bad, they didn't seem to mind that Rajoy never spelled out exactly what he'll cut to narrow deficits, restore investor confidence and pay for the tax breaks he's promised. That does make some people nervous.
PABLO AZNAR: I'm scared about it. I'm really worried.
FRAYER: Pablo Aznar is an elementary school teacher in Madrid, where Rajoy's conservatives run the local government. He's seen budget cuts there, and worries the conservatives' free market ideology could come as a rude awakening for many Spaniards.
AZNAR: They are copying something like in the States, that if you have money you can have a comfortable life, and if you haven't got it...
FRAYER: Rajoy officially takes power late next month. But Fernandez, the economist, says volatile markets will force him to appoint an economy czar immediately.
FERNANDEZ: He will nominate some individual which from the very first week will go to Brussels, to Frankfurt, to Paris, to Berlin, and talk to the European leaders and start clarifying what the economic program of the government will be.
FRAYER: Rajoy has pleaded with the markets to give him time to clarify things, but he acknowledged they may not.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.