MADRID (AP) — Spain’s main opposition party has appointed a veteran conservative politician as its new chief to turn a page on an ugly internal clash that precipitated the fall of a once-promising young leader and infused new life into far-right rivals.
Popular Party members on Saturday elected Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the regional chief of the northwest Galicia region, as their president, tasking him to lead the center-right party’s bid to unseat Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
The vote took place during a two-day party congress in the southern city of Seville. Feijóo ran unopposed.
Sánchez has led a left-to-center coalition since early 2020 and has said that he intends to rule through his current term, which lasts until late 2023.
Feijóo is a 60-year-old former civil servant who has won four consecutive regional elections in Galicia, a stronghold for the Popular Party. He is regarded as the consensus figure needed to restore peace quickly in conservative ranks after Pablo Casado’s ugly fall from the party’s presidency.
Casado, 41, rose to the top party job promising a clean slate after a series of corruption scandals that brought down a previous Popular Party administration. But Casado lost an internal power struggle that involved public accusations of corruption against a fellow party heavyweight, who in turn accused Casado of political espionage.
Feijóo did not directly address the unseemly feud that brought down Casado. Instead, he focused on sending the message that the Popular Party would exercise a responsible opposition thanks to its experience.
“We will do everything we can for the best of Spain because our adversaries are our political rivals, not Spain,” Feijóo told party members.
According to recent polls, the Popular Party turmoil has mostly benefited the far-right Vox party, which has gained ground in Spain’s ever more fragmented political landscape.
The Popular Party announced in March that it would enter a governing coalition with Vox in the northwestern Castilla y León region, the first major power grab for the far-right since the end of Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975.