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Conspicuous absence

Rajoy is avoiding his responsibilities by failing to explain his policies to the electorate

No matter how serious the issue: spending cuts; runaway unemployment; or tensions with the regions, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is either unwilling or unable to show the leadership that an electorate increasingly fearful of both the crisis and the measures being applied to deal with it demands.

Instead, the prime minister breaks his silence with the occasional comment suggesting that while he is as unhappy as the rest of us with the measures he is implementing, they are for our own good. He has yet to give a proper press conference since he took office more than three months ago, limiting himself instead to a few comments to news agency Efe, and vague answers to the concerns raised by his colleagues in the European Union. He has refused to talk to the media, and has yet to explain in Congress the thinking behind the biggest cuts in social spending in this country’s history.

Rajoy’s approach to running the country is the same as that which he employed during the long-running battle to unseat him from within his own Popular Party: by keeping a low profile and a cool head.

But running a party is not the same as a country. He is doing the same thing that he did while in opposition: he keeps out of the fray, and allows his subordinates to fight among themselves and to contradict each other.

But he is no longer the leader of the opposition, he is the head of the government, the leader of the country. His policy of silence is breaking the rules of democracy; which is to explain to the electorate what he is doing, and why he is doing it, on a regular basis, particularly at a time of unprecedented crisis.

The gravity of the situation and the measures he is taking to deal with it require cross-party support. Instead, Rajoy’s government last week rejected in their entirety the amendments put forward by the opposition to its budget.

The prime minister seems to believe that because he has an absolute majority — the only leader in the EU enjoying such a privilege — he can push through measures without consensus. He might learn from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also enjoyed an absolute majority, and is now fighting for his political survival.

Rajoy was clearly much more comfortable when practicing sabotage from the opposition benches against the Socialist Party administration. One month before the elections last November, the polls showed that the electorate believed he was better prepared to deal with crisis, that he had better ideas, and would inspire more confidence abroad than Socialist Party’s candidate Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. It is also true that 72 percent of those polled said they had no faith in him, but in late 2011, he seemed like the lesser of two evils.

His was a short honeymoon, and by March his popularity was on the wane. He seems to be following the same trajectory as his predecessor, José Luis Zapatero, in 2008: four months after winning a second term, and still in denial over the crisis, he began to lose support. The question isn’t about history repeating itself; simply that we want to know where our prime minister is headed.