MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s conservative People’s Party elected Alberto Nuñez Feijoo as its new leader on Saturday in the hope of winning back voters from a growing far right and firming up its increasingly shaky position as the country’s main opposition force.
Feijoo, who won 98.35% of the vote, was the only candidate to lead the PP after an internal scandal brought down previous leader Pablo Casado and tipped the party, which for decades traded power with the incumbent Socialists, into crisis.
The PP has been losing ground to new parties that sprang up in the wake of Spain’s financial crash, key among them the far-right Vox, which splintered off from the PP in 2014 and is now the third-largest force in parliament.
Feijoo has led the northwestern Galicia region for 13 years, having won four consecutive regional elections without losing a single seat to the far right.
“Thank you for choosing me as the president of the PP. The really important thing now is to continue together so that Spaniards choose us for the future,” he told a party conference in Seville on Saturday.
Corruption scandals, which have dogged the PP for years, led in 2018 to the party being ousted from power in a no-confidence vote.
In the last national election, in November 2019, the PP barely won 5 million votes compared with 10.9 million garnered in 2011. The next election is due in late 2023.
By contrast, VOX came from nowhere to take almost 3.6 million votes in 2019 and has secured its first position in a regional government thanks to a coalition agreement with the PP in Castile and Leon.
One of the main decisions facing Feijoo is whether to continue pursuing political alliances with Vox or to freeze them out, as some voices within the PP are calling for.
A senior PP source said Vox’s splinter origins meant that the PP “is not giving up on winning back Vox voters”.
Feijoo aims to widen his base to become a catch-all centrist party, the same source said, although it is unclear how he will achieve this goal.
Spain’s growing political fragmentation makes it difficult to regain majorities like those of the years when a two-party system reigned. In 2019, some 16 parties were represented in the lower house, and more small groups have since emerged.
(Reporting by Belén Carreño; Additional reporting Graham Keeley; Editing by Nathan Allen and Alison Williams)