Spain Impasse Ends as Mariano Rajoy Is Assured Re-election -

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MADRID--Mariano Rajoy, a prominent target of the antiestablishment fervor rising across Europe, was assured ofre-election as prime minister when his Socialist rivals conceded defeat Sunday, ending Spain's10-month leadershipimpasse.

Socialist leaders, in a reversal, instructed their party's lawmakers to abstain when Parliament considers hiscandidacy next weekend, depriving other opposition parties of the votes needed to keep blocking the conservativeincumbent. The Socialists, distant runners-up to Mr. Rajoy intwo elections of deadlocked parliaments since December,said they feared a deeper loss if a third election was required.

The Socialist leadership committee took Sunday's decision by a vote of 139 to 96.

On Sunday, he emerged as a consummate survivor, demonstrating the uneven impact of the Continent's insurgent protestparties.

Far from a sweeping mandate, Mr. Rajoy will get a vulnerable minority government. He said in a recent speech that hewould have to "work day to day, with humility and patience," to coax legislative backing for his second-terminitiatives.

Mr. Rajoy will become the second head of a eurozone government, afterEnda Kenny of Ireland, to win re-election aftermaking painful budget cuts demanded by creditors to ease Europe's financial crisis.

Two prime ministers who took that orthodox course while managing international bailouts lost elections last year toleftist parties in Greece and Portugal.

Antiestablishment forces elsewhere are exploiting distress over the financial crisis, refugee influxes and terroristattacks, with varying degrees of success.

Austria's close runoff election in December could produce a right-wing populist president. The Alternative forGermany, Italy's 5 Star Movement and France'sNational Front poll well short of national majorities but have upendedtraditional politics withstrong gains in local and regional elections.

Spain's old guard has weathered the turbulence for several reasons.

Mr. Rajoy's Popular Party, with its base of reliable elderly voters, dominates the right of Spain's politicalspectrum. It has no competition from the kind of anti-immigrant, euroskeptic movements that have divided conservativesin France and Germany. Spaniards overwhelmingly support EU membership and generally tolerate immigrants. The countryhasn't suffered a fatal terrorist attack in this decade.

Recovery from the 2008 recession, though far from complete, has been robust by European standards: Spain's economy isexpected to grow 3.2% this year.

Instead, Mr. Rajoy was challenged over corruption, high unemployment and income inequality. Two protestparties--Podemos on the far left, and Ciudadanos in the center--finished strongly in a December parliamentaryelection.

The Popular Party, with three million fewer votes than it got for Mr. Rajoy's landslide win in 2011, lost itslegislative majority and lacked enough allies to build one.

But in the ensuing months of parliamentary deadlock, the party stood as a pillar of strength that allowed Mr. Rajoy toexploit the fragmented political landscape to his advantage and widen his leadin a June rerun of the election.

His rivals repeatedly blocked his re-election by Parliament but failed to muster their own governing majority. TheSocialists and Podemos, vying to dominate the left, took opposing stands on Catalonia's separatist drive. Internal feudsplague both parties.

"We were aware of the erosion of support for our party and the government," said Pablo Casado, a Popular Partyofficial. But as the deadlock dragged on, he added, "the erosion became worse for the other parties."

Mr. Rajoy's firm control of the party helped him fend off calls for a leadership change when it was shaken byallegations of illegal financing.

The party's founders in 1989 gave vast authority to a single leader. Mr. Rajoy, handpicked by his predecessor, hasheld the top party job since 2003, despite losing two national elections. Just four chief executives of EU member stateshave served longer as a party leader.

"The fact that he's a strong leader who could placate dissent and keep the party united, despite the scandals, allowedhim to present a cohesive alternative" to bickering rivals on the left, said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at the TeneoIntelligence political consultancy.

Write to Richard Boudreaux

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This article appears in:Politics