Who is Mariano Rajoy? The story of a proper Pontevedran gentleman

As a typical son of the provincial bourgeoisie, Mariano Rajoy was a model student and precocious politician who has survived being attacked by those who made him

XOSÉ HERMIDA Santiago 22 NOV 2011 - 13:51 CET

The man about to move into the Moncloa palace is, first and foremost, a man from Pontevedra. He is a person brought up in the languid and anodyne atmosphere of a small provincial capital where everyone knew everyone else and which, in the early 1970s of Mariano Rajoy's youth, was dominated by a bourgeoisie of high-ranking civil servants who lived a sedate life of get-togethers, society balls and summer vacations on the coast. Rajoy spent the key years of his life sheltered in this social bubble, where everyone would have agreed he was a real gentleman: well-mannered, studious, loyal to tradition and hierarchy, cheerful but restrained. A man of order, perhaps the idea of the "normal person" to which he appeals so often.

While others fought the dictatorship, Rajoy spent hours reading legal treatises

He acted as a man of harmony in all the posts through which he passed

It might not be the most common background of a prime minister, but neither, taking into account his family roots, is his appointment mere chance. Rajoy's ancestors have been very close to power: his grandfather was a conservative Republican who wrote the Galicia Statute and became dean of the Santiago Legal School. That past carried a certain cost with it after the war, but his son Mariano - Rajoy's father - forged a career in the judiciary during the Franco years, ending up as president of the Pontevedra High Court. Rajoy senior embodied the sense of judicial strictness fitting of a man in his position. The traces are clearly visible in Rajoy, in his vocabulary - plagued with administrative terms - in his emotional inscrutability and in that permanent gray tone of his clothing. Rajoy's father imagined no other career path for his son, and the two brothers and one sister who came after him, than landing a big job for life in the state administration. And he worked thoroughly to discipline them. Three of them passed the land registrar exams and the other the notary examination.

The gentleman from Pontevedra in reality is not from Pontevedra. Born in 1955 in Santiago de Compostela, the city of his grandfather, the successive postings of his father turned his childhood into a shuffle between Ávila, Galicia, Asturias and finally León, where he began attending classes at a religious school where Zapatero would later study. In his teens, he settled down in Pontevedra and there he found everything that would end up marking his life: his beginning in politics, the friends he would keep forever, the woman he married and had two children with... He got his high-school diploma in a public school there, before setting off for Santiago to study law.

The Galician capital was a hotbed of anti-Francoism. Students made up half of the population and the streets boiled in a symphony of protests. Rajoy never mixed in this world. While others fought the dictatorship, dreamt of revolution, tried drugs and discovered sexual liberation, he spent hours beneath his reading lamp, immersed in legal treatises.

His academic path was so brilliant that he landed the post of land registrar at the age of 23. After military service, he was given the position of registrar for Padrón, a town halfway between Santiago and Pontevedra.

Then he discovered politics. Among his influences, Rajoy always cites Pío Cabanillas, a progressive in the Franco regime who would play an important role in the UCD, the coalition of centrists and conservatives that won the first free elections after the dictatorship. The pair met during his summers by the Arosa estuary. Various sources also put him in the orbit of another Pontevedran, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, another ex-Franco minister but one of a more ultra-conservative persuasion. Famous for a book titled El crepúsculo de las ideologías (or, The twilight of ideologies), Fernández de la Mora founded an organization, Unión Nacional Española, that ended up integrating into the Alianza Popular. This new party, in which former Franco minister Manuel Fraga reigned over a Jurassic park of Francoist technocrats, was the natural destination for Rajoy. And he was soon noticed there. "He was a very brave guy, intelligent and tolerant," recalls a colleague from the time. "Even so, you never expected him to take the initiative."

What exactly was Rajoy's ideology? His appearance and his unshakeable voice were extremely conservative. In an article he wrote in the Faro de Vigo newspaper he flirted with the idea of biological inequality between races. But others remember a different Rajoy. A rival politician who was at university with him notes he usually spoke to him about the need to modernize the law.

His political precocity broke records: regional deputy at 26, chairman of institutional relations in the Galician regional government at 27 and president of the Pontevedra provincial delegation at 31. The first big role of his political life arrived when he was recruited as vice premier and strongman in the regional government of Gerardo Fernández Albor, which had been severely weakened by the rebellion of several councilors.

The experience left him so burned it looked like he might give up politics, retreating to Santa Pola (Alicante) until José María Aznar and Francisco Álvarez-Cascos added him to the team of the recast Popular Party. There he became a cog in the party machine, not getting involved in the verbal excesses of his colleagues against the Socialists.

He was tempted back to Galicia many times, even by Fraga, though one poisonous description surrounded him: "He has everything to head the Galician regional government; he only needs to learn Galician and get married." Of the second point, he took notice. A few months after Aznar made him public administrations minister in his new government, he married Elvira Fernández, daughter of a building contractor in Sanxenxo who also had conservative roots.

He acted as a man of harmony in all the posts through which he later passed, from education minister to the prime minister's office - not even in the Interior Ministry did he get entangled in major conflicts - and in that way reached the position of first deputy prime minister. "The bad thing is he doesn't clean up the places he passes through. And the good thing is he doesn't dirty the places he passes through," summed up journalist José María García.

Confounding expectations, the loyal and disciplined Rajoy was handpicked by Aznar to succeed him in 2003. In the years that followed, he was given up for dead several times and had to put up with the biggest humiliations from the right-wing press and those who promoted him. They all underestimated him. They didn't know that in a small provincial capital they teach one quality above all others: patience.

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