If you say it's raining, to a Galician, he will respond is it?

That's the stereotype of the reserved, impenetrable character of people from the damp region of Galicia at the northwest tip of Spain.

And it's a good clue to the leadership style of Spain's next prime minister, centre-right People's Party leader Mariano Rajoy, elected in a landslide on Sunday to lead the country during an impending economic disaster.

A cautious moderate, Rajoy is an unlikely manager for a crisis that demands swift action. One in five workers is out of a job and borrowing costs have soared to unsustainable levels with a devastating potential break up of the euro currency zone looming over Europe.

Rajoy, 56, grew up in a traditional, provincial family. In the autobiography he put out this year the only hint of youthful rebellion was a hitch-hiking adventure to Barcelona. But even then, he asked his father, a judge, for permission to go.

I'm Mr. Normal, he has told people trying to work through his cryptic demeanour.

A once-avid cycler and fan of the Real Madrid football team, he smokes the occasional cigar. After losing his second race to lead the country in 2008 he survived ugly attacks from members of his own party.

His conformity makes him seem stiff and old-fashioned -- he laments the decline of Latin in the schools -- and he struggles to relate to frustrated young Spaniards who took to the streets this year to protest their grim job prospects.

Even though he's been on the national political scene for more than 20 years Rajoy's perspective has never fully moved beyond the cocoon of his middle-class provincial upbringing. He and all three of his younger siblings moved smoothly into the meritocracy after a Roman Catholic schooling.

Rajoy (pronounced RAH-HOI) wears a beard that covers the scars from a serious car accident that prevented him from shaving after it happened.

He studied law and his first job was as a land registrar, which even his friends admit is dreadfully dull. Like many of his generation he got into politics inspired by the political ferment of Spain's transition to democracy after dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975.

After being elected to several local and regional posts in Galicia in the 1980s, Rajoy moved to Madrid and served in four different ministerial jobs under Jose Maria Aznar, Spain's pro-Washington prime minister from 1996-2004.

Critics say the prudent Rajoy had limited impact in his political jobs, such as education minister, and that Aznar promoted him as a cabinet member who would not overshadow him.

Rajoy was Aznar's deputy in 2002 during the country's biggest environmental disaster, when the Prestige tanker went down off the coast of Galicia spilling oil that lapped up on Spanish beaches. The opposition and the media criticized him for downplaying the incident.

By all accounts a scrupulous man, Rajoy has said he was hurt by accusations that he had lied.

At times of crisis he demonstrates enormous tranquillity. He doesn't lose patience. He's a very temperate person, said Jose Maria Lassalle, a PP moderate and possible culture minister who has known Rajoy for eight years.

Aznar named Rajoy to succeed him as party leader, and if it had not been for an Islamist attack on Madrid commuter trains three days before the 2004 parliamentary election, he would probably already have been prime minister before now.

Aznar blamed Basque separatist group ETA for the train bombings, which were carried out by Islamist extremists, handing a surprise victory to the Socialists.

Rajoy ran and lost again in 2008.

He survived the inevitable internal party struggle that followed, hanging on to his leadership of the PP by convincing the pragmatists to help him quietly to get rid of the old Aznar conservatives and move the party towards the centre.

When he wins he doesn't think he's the mambo king and break out into dance steps. But he doesn't drown himself in misery when he loses, said an advisor who has known Rajoy for 20 years.


In the past PP leaders were either authoritarian, like Manuel Fraga, a minister during the Francisco Franco dictatorship, or ideologically driven, like the conservative Aznar.

Rajoy breaks with that tradition. Even his critics within the party give him credit for promoting moderates such as Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, a shift they say has made the party attractive to a wider range of voters. Most Spaniards define themselves as left of centre.

The hard-line right is done with. Franco doesn't exist. We are not cavemen, he said heatedly in a conversation with foreign journalists earlier this year.

Rajoy dons jeans and a polo shirt to go for a daily walk in a park near his home in Aravaca, a wealthy neighbourhood of Madrid. Sometimes security guards are trailing him at a distance, but sometimes not. He stops and chats with neighbours.

Staying within his provincial comfort-zone, Rajoy married a hometown girl. His brother introduced him in 1992 to Elvira Fernandez, 10 years his junior, who studied business administration and was also from Pontevedra, the town Rajoy calls home though he was born in Santiago de Compostela.

The two were married in late 1996, when Rajoy was 41 and had recently been sworn in to his first cabinet minister post. They had to change the wedding day because on the originally planned date there was a vote in the lower house.

The couple named their first son Mariano, which was also Rajoy's father's name, and their second boy Juan.

Rajoy is adamant about making his sons, now 12 and six, learn foreign languages, especially English, because he keenly feels his lack of English will be a liability as he tries to lead Spain out of a crisis that requires enormous coordination with other European leaders.

After his party won the biggest majority in Spain's lower house in 30 years, Rajoy made a sober victory speech pledging to get right to work.

There won't be any miracles... I ask you to keep helping me and to keep supporting me. Difficult times lie ahead but we will have the will, the courage and the determination, he told his cheering supporters outside PP headquarters in Madrid on Sunday night.

His only visible sign of excitement was a little pogo jump, straight up and down.

If you want to know what Rajoy is feeling, watch his wife's face, quipped rightist newspaper El Mundo, saying she is much more human than he is.

As party faithful waved flags and cheered, Rajoy at one point put his arm around Fernandez and kissed her. The not-so-spontaneous gesture was dissected by the press the next day, which is bound to heighten her shyness about appearing in public.

However, she is not expected to be as fiercely private as Sonsoles Espinosa, wife of outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who completely locked out the Spanish media after they savaged her teenage daughters for wearing combat boots and all-black clothes in a White House visit.

Perhaps because of his woodenness Rajoy is not well-loved by Spaniards, who on the whole are not shy of expressing emotion. His election victory was built on the Socialists' mistakes and was due more to Socialist voters fleeing to smaller parties than to enchantment with his agenda.

For months and months there was a paradox in opinion polls. Rajoy received very low approval ratings from Spaniards who said he did not understand their problems. But at the same time polls anticipated the People's Party election victory as disillusionment with the Socialists was growing, due to the country's high unemployment.

Eventually, he began to rise in popularity as people began to see him as a winner in the glow of the likely PP victory.


Rajoy -- who international investors are looking to for swift action on the country's debt problems -- is better known for self-restraint and for listening carefully to advisors than for taking strong initiatives.

The good thing about his noncommittal character is that he has maintained independence and does not owe any favours either to business leaders or party big shots. That means he can choose a technically strong cabinet to manage the crisis, forcing a new restructuring on banks and pushing through drastic spending cuts.

Rajoy should be in tune with Europe's current, mostly conservative, leaders. However, some critics complain he has not sufficiently fostered a relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel-- an important ally as Spain and the entire euro zone try to fend off market attacks.

He will not be sworn in until mid-December, and the relatively long transition period looks to be an agonizing period of uncertainty.

On Monday, his first day as prime-minister-to-be, Rajoy refused to give any hints on his all-important economy team and on Tuesday the country's borrowing cost jumped dramatically at an auction of short-term bills.

It's hard to change a person at his age and of his temperament. His style will be his style although he cannot afford it. He will torture us making us wait, said one Rajoy watcher, who asked not to be named.

(Reporting By Fiona Ortiz, Editing by Angus MacSwan)