In the end Mariano Rajoy was praised by both political friends and enemies for the way he swiftly announced that he will be standing aside from the leadership of the conservative PP party. I am going “because it is best for me, best for the PP and best for Spain”, explained the tearful former prime minister after meeting his party's most senior members on Tuesday.
Rajoy had resisted calls to step down as PM before last week's no-confidence vote, insisting that he had done nothing wrong in corruption scandals that have plagued the party and eventually brought down his government.
Leader of left-wing Podemos and arch critic, Pablo Iglesias, praised the outgoing PP leader after his announcement. “An elegant and intelligent politician is retiring...he won my respect,” Iglesias wrote on Twitter.
Rajoy took over the PP in 2004 from José María Aznar and was prime minister from 2011. Since October 2016 he has led a minority government, which, despite having the largest number of MPs by far, has had to pact, principally with the Ciudadanos and PNV parties, to survive.
In the recent judgment in the Gürtel corruption case, Rajoy was cited as “lacking credibility” as a witness. He will stand down after a party conference in July to choose his successor.
Although candidates have still not declared their hand, a possible front runner is regional president of Galicia, Alberto Nuñez-Feijóo, who is seen as not tinged by corruption scandals and able to draw together different wings of the PP party.