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Spain’s Popular Party Elects Pablo Casado, a Hard-liner, to Replace Rajoy

MADRID — Spain’s opposition Popular Party has elected Pablo Casado to replace Mariano Rajoy as its leader, choosing a hard-liner who wants to stop the Socialist government from making concessions to Catalan separatists and from legalizing euthanasia.

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Raphael Minder
, New York Times

MADRID — Spain’s opposition Popular Party has elected Pablo Casado to replace Mariano Rajoy as its leader, choosing a hard-liner who wants to stop the Socialist government from making concessions to Catalan separatists and from legalizing euthanasia.

Casado, 37, won a runoff vote Saturday against Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, a former deputy prime minister who had served under Rajoy, who was ousted as prime minister after losing a confidence vote in Parliament in early June.

During his campaign to lead the Popular Party, Casado criticized the new Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for offering to negotiate with the recently appointed Catalan government in Barcelona.

“Dialogue doesn’t work with those who want to break the law,” Casado said recently, referring to lawmakers in Catalonia who illegally declared independence from Spain in October.

Casado has also condemned Sánchez’s recent proposal to legalize euthanasia, urging conservative voters to defend the rights to life and the family.

The Popular Party’s new leader has proposed reintroducing a more restrictive law on abortion than the one passed by a previous Socialist administration, which allows terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. In his first term, Rajoy had tried to tighten the abortion law, but he eventually abandoned the idea after street protests.

Casado has also led opposition to Sánchez’s plan to exhume Francisco Franco, the dictator who was buried in the underground basilica he built after winning Spain’s civil war. Within days of taking office, the new prime minister said his government wanted to give the former dictator a more modest burial place, as part of an effort to atone for the crimes of the civil war and the repression that followed the conflict.

“I would not spend one euro on exhuming Franco,” Casado recently said.

The two parties and their leaders are expected to clash over fiscal issues. Sánchez presented a budget plan this month that foresees higher public spending and corporate taxes. Casado has criticized the plan, promising instead to lower corporate taxes to increase Spain’s competitiveness.

Sánchez leads a fragile Socialist government that holds one-quarter of the seats in Parliament and that relies on the continued support of the far-left party Podemos, as well as Basque and Catalan lawmakers who helped oust Rajoy.

The new prime minister does not have to call another general election until 2020, but Spain is set to hold municipal and regional elections in May; those results could determine whether Sánchez will be able to complete his term in office.

Still, Casado’s priority will be to reunite his own party, which was left bruised and fractured by the abrupt and unexpected ouster of Rajoy a week after his party was sentenced for operating a slush fund. According to recent opinion polls, the Popular Party has been losing voters to Ciudadanos, a center-right party that has fiercely opposed Catalan secessionism.

After being chosen to lead the Popular Party on Saturday, Casado promised in his victory speech to party loyalists to “try to strengthen our criminal code to stop any secessionist challenge.”

He has proposed a law that would declare illegal any political formation that advocates separatism. He is also opposed to the transfer of militants from ETA, the Basque separatist group, who have been jailed across Spain but are demanding to serve their prison terms in the Basque region.

ETA dissolved itself in May, after one of the longest terrorism campaigns in modern Europe, which left more than 800 people in Spain dead.

On Thursday, a Supreme Court justice dropped a European Union arrest warrant for former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and other separatist politicians who had fled Spain to avoid prosecution. The move came after a German regional court ruled that Puigdemont could be extradited to Spain only to stand trial for a financial crime, and not for the more serious charge of rebellion for which Spanish prosecutors want him to face trial.

Puigdemont, who was arrested while traveling through Germany, is expected to return to Belgium, where he had first fled, and to renew his efforts to lead Catalan politics and his own political formation from there.

During Rajoy’s time in office, Casado was among the rising stars of a younger generation of conservative lawmakers, and he was the spokesman of the Popular Party.

His election is a remarkable turnaround from May, when a judge in Madrid named Casado among the politicians being investigated for receiving university degrees without fulfilling the required academic credentials. Cristina Cifuentes, the conservative leader of the regional government in Madrid who was accused of falsifying her degree, resigned over the accusations.

Rajoy’s sudden ouster left the party leaderless, however, providing Casado with an opportunity to leapfrog over more experienced politicians.

Casado is expected to meet with the former deputy prime minister, Sáenz de Santamaría, before appointing a new party leadership team.

“We need to form this new team together,” he said Saturday.

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