“I’ve been signed by Florentino!” The meme, sent on August 28 via Whatsapp, showed a picture of the latest soccer player to join Real Madrid, Mariano Díaz, except the face was Mariano Rajoy’s. The former prime minister of Spain shared the joke with a group of friends, illustrating his relaxed state of mind three months after being removed from office in a no-confidence vote led by Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez.
Where just a few months ago Rajoy, 63, was hobnobbing with world leaders, he now commutes from Madrid to a luxury resort near San Juan de Alicante, on the Mediterranean coast, which is in turn a half-hour drive from his new/old job in Santa Pola: head of the local property registrar’s office, where he used to work back in the 1980s. Even before that, a 24-year-old Rajoy had become the youngest candidate to pass the public examination for the position of property registrar. Rajoy’s new office hours still give him time to catch the latest Champions League game on TV back in his room.
He is calm, he is partly over the shock of the no-confidence motion
“He is calm, he is partly over the shock of the no-confidence motion, which he could not have anticipated, and he still keeps abreast of events and is in touch with a few politicians who have come down to visit, but in particular with friends who organize lunches for him in Santa Pola and also in Madrid, and with lifetime friends with whom he has spent past summers in Sanxenxo,” said someone who has worked closely with the former head of the Popular Party (PP) in recent years.
This is the new reality for the man who left La Moncloa prime ministerial palace so abruptly on June 1, after seven-and-a-half years in power, nearly 15 years as the leader of Spain’s biggest conservative party, and a total of 38 years in active politics.
On that fateful afternoon of May 31, when Congress was debating his ouster, aides say that Rajoy was already aware of what the outcome would be. He had known several days ahead of the vote, when his former ally, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), decided that it would vote against him.
When his job transfer back to Madrid takes effect, Rajoy will also get an institutional office, a privilege reserved for all former prime ministers of Spain. Former PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the PSOE has already telephoned Rajoy to welcome him into the club, but not so José María Aznar, a fellow PP conservative who was once Rajoy’s political mentor.
Rajoy gave a dignified speech in Congress and went out to enjoy a long lunch at a nearby restaurant, Arahy. He did not return to the lower house of parliament that afternoon, despite the mounting rumors that he had resigned, instead sending his trusted colleague, then-Defense Minister Dolores de Cospedal, to speak in his place and deny those reports. Several bottles of whisky later, when night had fallen, Rajoy emerged from the restaurant and made his last trip back to La Moncloa as the prime minister of Spain.
He refused to step down out of pride, and because he did not want to look like a corrupt leader going out the back door, an accusation that he has always rejected, say the same aides. On June 15, he gave up his congressional seat and requested his old civil service position in Santa Pola. However, he has applied for a transfer to Madrid, at the registrar’s office located at number five on the central Castellana boulevard, in Madrid’s business district.
His brother-in-law, the MEP and diplomat Francisco Millán, says that Rajoy cracks jokes about “these politicians” when the media report on political strife. And aides insist that Rajoy “was never fond of hanging out in high-flying business circles,” preferring to spend time with old friends instead. These days he is particularly happy about the response he is getting on the streets. Last month he bought a low-cost plane ticket from Alicante to Vigo, and when he walked into the aircraft the crew broke out in applause. And so many people were stopping him for selfies during his daily power walks in Galicia that he was forced to find a different route.
This popularity is also partly the reason for his transfer request to Madrid: the Alicante hotel where he was staying was attracting legions of people trying to get their picture taken with Rajoy. He has since moved to a golf and spa resort that affords greater privacy and whose golf course was designed by top player Severiano Ballesteros.
English version by Susana Urra.