Spanish political life under impeachment

angela-100x100by Angela Muñoz Aroca


Two months after the general elections, Spain does not have a Prime Minister or a good perspective to get such a thing, as the negotiations to form coalitions are not being fruitful. After the surprising withdrawal of the Prime Minister in functions, Mariano Rajoy, to undergo a vote to be invested; his socialist counterpart, Pedro Sanchez, has taken the lead to try to form a government. The retreat of Rajoy was, at best, unexpected, but in line with the ambiguous and disconnected messages he is offering the citizens since the 20D. For instance, while the evening of the 21st January he was keen to assure that `evidently´ he would try to be invested as a President if the king would offer him the opportunity, he declined the offer the morning after. As an explanation, the president in functions made an excellent use of a childish rhetoric, declaring that although he said he would run for the presidency he did not specify when.

Thus, with the president in functions out of the game, Pedro Sánchez is now devoted to rounds of negotiations with alternative political parties, such as the liberal Ciudadanos and the left Podemos. The shadow of a new general election, which would take place the next 26th June, is becoming inevitable due to the lack of consensus amongst the two formations, which refuse to cooperate with each other, but also due to the requirements imposed by parties such as Podemos, which can hardly be accepted by the socialist party. Amongst them are the celebration of a referendum for the independence in Catalonia, the possibility to exert political control over institutional powers, or increase the public expending, what is impossible if we attend to the budgetary constrictions in Spain, which is trying to comply with the requirements imposed by the EU.

The political uncertainty would seem problematic enough for a country that is losing credibility and support from the EU and from financial institutions to which needs to be responsive, many of which are warming about the risk that a Spain without a government poses to the EU, as it will not be able to implement the additional reforms necessary to follow the path of Europe. Accordingly, the credit rating Agency Moody has recently varied its perspective over the Spanish economy, as it considers that, added to the rather limited structural changes taken by the Spanish government in the last couple of years, the reforms will not take place within the next legislature, independently to the party in power. The heterogeneity of the Congress and the lack of consensus amongst the different formations would be the reasons for this appreciations. Nevertheless, and more importantly, the political uncertainty related to the economic situation of Spain is added to a political crisis, one of the reasons why consensus cannot be achieved amongst the different formations, and the new political parties have been able to gain a great citizens’ support.

At the basis of this political crisis are the continuous cases of corruption, money laundering and traffic of influences, which affect members of different political formations –and even the Royal family- and which provoke people`s reticence to trust the political alternatives. These cases are a continuum within Spanish politics, but are recently achieving a widespread dimension that makes them look as a systemic disease of the political structures. For instance, since the beginning of the year, four cases of corruption have hit the whole structure of the conservative party in Spain.

The four cases involves the whole organization in Valencia, investigated for possible corruption and misuse of public budget; the investigation over the headquarters of the party in Madrid, suspected of destroying legal evidences and relevant information related to the case Bárcenas, ex-treasurer of the party; the new call to the courts of the former Vice-President of Spain, Rodrigo Rato, in a secret cause investigating corruption within particulars and tax offense; and finally, the prosecution of the former Minister of Environment, Miguel Angel Arias Cañete, charged of corruption.

The lack of knowledge of the dimensions of these scandals, added to the imprisonment of the former secretary general of the party in the capital, alongside the former administrator –accused of traffic of influences and unfounded collection of fees-, has had as a consequence the resignation of the head of the party in Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, taking the unprecedented step of assuming her responsibility for not taking control of the workers of the organization. This reaction has not even been considered by the PM, Rajoy, who despite leading a party that has lost more than 3 million votes in the last general elections, behaves as if the cases were not important enough to occupy his concerns.

Amongst the prosecuted authorities, the most notorious one is the former treasurer of the party, Luis Bárcenas, who expended almost two years in prison. The destruction of relevant information to his case, papers on which the name of the current president appears, has provoked the investigation over the whole organization at the national level and the hiring of an external auditor to the party. The investigation is still taking place, thus no conclusions can be drawn from this case. Secondly, the 24 members of the party in Valencia are being, at present times, investigated for receiving commissions due to irregular adjudications of public contracts, case in which the former head of the city council in that region, Rita Barberá, is also suspect.

The third case, as we have already mentioned, is the investigation of the former Vice-President, Rodrigo Rato, who has also been the Managing Director of the IMF. He is being investigated for tax offenses, traffic of influences, corruption and money laundering, due to his activities while being the head of the Spanish bank, Bankia, from 2010 to 2012. Before continuing, it should be noted that is not solely the conservative party which is suspect of such infringements but, as they are the protagonists of four scandals taking place within just the last month, we considered that it gave us enough information to illustrate the article. Within this scenario, it may be understandable that people are not so focused on knowing who will be the next President of the country, but on solving first the ongoing cases.

Nevertheless, in the midst of all these political scandals and examples of misconduct –some of them investigated for a while-, an example of the distorted public opinion should help to explain why the situation is that irregular in Spain. The most polemic case in the month of January is related to an irrelevant anecdote which took place the night of the 5th, when the parade of the three holly kings takes place in Spain, announcing the end of the Christmas period. For that occasion, the new head of the city council in Madrid, Manuela Carmena, decided to vary some particularities of the celebration. Amongst them were to give a more modern and children focused look to the holly kings, changing their Victorian appearance, and to eliminate the VIP section for privileged children.

These decisions provoked the anger of the most conservative sectors of the society, a boom of comments in the social media and were the responsible of the main headlines within the newspapers in Spain. She even provoked public speeches of regional and national political opponents, who are keen to get involved in these discussions but refuse to make declarations about the ongoing corruption cases. These news were continuous during the whole month, days during which she has been called several names and no mentions have been made to the good management and citizens’ focus lead that she is taking in the capital. For instance, and may one suggest more important than the Christmas story, she has re-stablish universal health accessible for all the citizens in Madrid and has cut the public expending while reducing unnecessary costs of the public institutions.

Nevertheless, not even the examples given above or the fact that people have to deal with increasing taxes when millions of euros have flown to private accounts in financial paradises such as Switzerland; have helped the population to be more active and put an end on these exemplifications of political irresponsibility. As incredible as it may sound, the conservative party still collect the majority of votes and wins in the most hit locations by their mismanagement, such as regional areas of Madrid. There are not few videos in which voters of the conservative party are asked about the reason why they keep on voting the same organisation despite all that happened, with answers such as `the other parties also steal money´, as if it was an excuse to overlook the political scandals that are widespread in Spain.

Thus, may the reader agree that not only a political regeneration is needed here, as it is not an exceptional person what is needed to safe Spain from their political and institutional weakness, but an exceptional population who is able to ask for higher standards of representativeness. The Spanish civil society needs to do a deep exercise of self-criticism and learn how to use their democratic rights, as the situation will stay stagnant as long as we indirectly support it with our immobilism and votes. The population as a whole should fight for the adoption of urgent measures to control the public institutions and to demand higher standards of behaviour, responsibility and responsiveness towards the citizens. For all these measures to be taken we all should be better educated and conscious of the weakness of our democratic system, to become an example to be reproduced by our politicians. And it would be solely when the whole society ask more of themselves than we will get something better. Otherwise, we will keep on complaining about a reality that we have chosen and is, at the end of the day, people who should be blamed for not being able or willing to defend their own interests.


Image courtesy of Oli Scarff / Getty Images

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