image by Partido Popular de Cataluña, via Commons (licence CC 2.0)
by Angela Munoz Aroca
On Saturday 29th, Mariano Rajoy, president in functions and head of the conservative party, was invested President of Spain. The investiture ends the political gridlock Spain was suffering for the last year but, what should have been a reason to celebrate, has been interpreted by many as the victory of corruption and mismanagement, and a further hit to our democratic system and to the legitimacy of our institutions, which have been continuously abused and used for political purposes far from the people needs. In addition, instability has come to stay, as the government is minority will face the opposition of a parliament that disapproves the management of the conservatives for the last five years.
After 314 days without a government and two general elections in less than a year, Spain stops to be the ungovernable country which worries its neighbours. On Saturday 29th and with the support of 170 congressmen, the abstention of 68 –from the socialist party-, and the opposition of 111, Mariano Rajoy was invested President of Spain.
The political paralysis we had until this weekend has even caught the attention of first line international media such as the Financial Times, which have been eager to analyse our situation, to give some [unsolicited] advice and to make the urgent call to the socialist party to support the investment of Rajoy, former president and head of the conservative party, as the only solution for Spain not to enter into a kind of catastrophic and irreversible political and economic crisis.
Despite advice and disregarding the international perplexity for the `Spanish case´, the investment of Rajoy was everything but sure, and let`s say that un-governability was lately perceived by many as not the worst option regarding our political scene. Nevertheless, in the last month this plot worth for a season of House of Cards has lived a dramatic turnover, after the head of the socialist party was forced to resign.
But to understand why the international public opinion is kinder to celebrate this investiture than within our borders I would like to divide the article into two parts: first, I will talk about the kind of internal coup d`état to Pedro Sánchez within the socialist party and how, despite efforts to cover the real intentions behind this movement, it was clear for everyone that it was to facilitate a new government, even if to do so it was necessary to break all the promises made by the party last year; and second, I will refresh the never ending corruption cases that hit the conservative party, as it is one of the main reasons why a large part of the population thinks the PP is delegitimised to take power.
Pedro Sanchez had become an uncomfortable figure within his own party, due to his apparent lack of will to refloat the political situation Spain is living for almost a year, and due to his efforts to become closer to the left-wing party Podemos, with which he was even considering to create a left-wing coalition to govern Spain for the next four years, with the support of other parties with less parliamentarian representation. This position was perceived as unacceptable by heavyweights within the party, mainly those governing the Autonomous Communities of Andalusia and Extremadura, eager to accept an abstention to facilitate a right-wing government. Accordingly, running out of time to choose a PM, as this decision had to be done before the 31st October at 23:59, the deadline for the congress to be dissolved and new general elections to be programmed, the socialist party gathered the Federal Committee to force Pedro Sánchez to resign. Before having to do so, 17 members of the executive resigned to force the body to be dissolved and to replace it with a board, which would be in charge of the party until a new President was elected.
This decision was, nevertheless, presented as not related to a possible investiture, what is understandable if you think that none of the main figures of the party wanted to openly recognise that they were about to betray the confidence given to them by the society. But, following the general feeling, the committee decided that way on Sunday 23rd October, letting the king start the round of contacts with all party representatives on Monday and Tuesday, designing the candidate, Rajoy, on Tuesday evening and allowing a vote in the Congress before the 31st October.
The intent of the socialist party to avoid the third general elections have had three main consequences. First, they have betrayed their discourse of not letting the mismanagement and corruption of the conservative party be in power for four more years and their voters which gave them their support in answer to these discourses; second, has divided the whole party, as the socialists in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands reacted to this decision and stated that they will vote against Rajoy, despite menaces from the committee and breaking the vote discipline of the party, what could end up with a dissolution of this old coalition; and third, they have not solely lost the respect of their voters but also their role as the main power in the opposition. On top of that, as they have refused to enter the government in coalition and have promised to exert pressures to the leading party, their movement have not ended up with political instability and poses the menace of having new general elections in less than four years. If this happens, it could be argued that the main negatively affected will be the socialists, as the latest events have only helped to highlight Podemos as the only left-wing alternative, and have let the socialists with no clear position, credibility, and a dissolved message.
Turning now to the conservatives, I will present an update of the summary of corruption cases affecting the -until Saturday- government in functions, which helps to explain why celebrating their victory is for many equal to celebrate impunity, corruption, and mismanagement.
Accordingly, the PP has known 11 corruption cases within the party during the 10 months it has been in functions, with a total of 800 people being investigated. Such is the number and the gravity of some of the cases, that the party as a legal entity is being impeached in a judicial case, being charged with destroying relevant information for the authorities related to the Bárcenas case. Not only city halls are involved but also regional authorities, people in the Congress and in the Executive. Since Rajoy is in power, five ministers have resigned, three of them being involved in some of the extensive lists of corruption cases affecting the party. Despite evidence, the party has incredibly elude its responsibility to admit any mistake or to compensate the society. The charges include every possible one within the spectrum of misappropriation of public funds, from money laundering, to the traffic of influences and corruption. Nevertheless, the party takes every opportunity it has to remind the society about the advancements they have done in terms of transparency and corruption prevention and, instead of taking appropriate measures to clean their basis, their only answer has been to recriminate other political parties, basically the other traditional one, PSOE, for the cases in which they have also been involved.
This said these are some of the most polemic and serious cases affecting the conservatives. The first one is the Acuamed case, an investigation that concluded with the detention of the heads of a public company and that also involved the former Minister of Agriculture, Miguel Angel Arias Cañete. The Acuamed case consisted of using public money to beneficiate certain private companies and giving them contracts illegally, having the responsible charged with crimes such as misappropriation, bribery, and fraud against the general Administration.
The second case is the responsible of having the whole political organization impeached. Its protagonist is Luis Bárcenas, ex-general treasurer of the party. This case involves getting illegal donations from third parties, which were managed by Bárcenas, and were used, amongst other things, to pay for electoral campaigns and to remunerate some party leaders.
Continuing this net of mismanagement and corruption, we are at present times assisting to the Gürtel case trial, which has involved several regional and national representatives of the party and businessmen of different sectors, charged with political corruption. One of the persons investigated is the former head of the municipality of Pozuelo de Alarcón, Jesús Sepulveda, also the ex-husband of the former Minister of Health, Ana Mato, who left her position for enjoying the benefits of this corruption case.
Despite the lack of stability and economic problems Spain have and that the party in power is not addressing, they have had time to use their influence and position to reassign roles of responsibility to those that abused the system and that demonstrated their political incapability. In this sense, these last weeks we have heard that Ana Mato has been designed as a local advisor for the conservative MEP, job for which she will receive around 3.000 euros a month. Despite this decision does not break the Bylaws of the EU Parliament, it has been rightly criticized by many, who consider this decision as one more example of how the protection of the few in power is prioritized over the public interest.
Continuing with ministers or former ministers not being punished for their acts, I introduce now the Minister of Home Affairs, Jorge Fernández Díaz, who is still in charge despite he was involved in a scandal of using his political influence to gather information and use it against his political opponents, case that has been nicknamed as the Fernándezgate, in a direct allusion to the Watergate. Few weeks before the vote in Catalonia to decide for a Referendum the Minister used a public institution to gather information about political leaders of nationalist parties in Catalonia, in order to force them to resign due to corruption or any other scandal. Despite all the other parties in the parliament have asked for an investigation, the whole Executive have supported the Minister and he has not been forced to leave his position. Nevertheless, he could be replaced by another person for the next four years, but a public rejection of these kinds of practices could have been much appreciated by the society, taking into account the endless cases that emerged related to the conservative party. The illegal recording and leaking of private conversations to the media do not rest importance to the gravity of these acts and the heavy harm they cause to democracy. Moreover, in this conversations, it was even suggested that the Prime Minister, Rajoy, was informed of these movements.
The last but not the least is the former Minister of Industry, José Manuel Soria. Soria left his position for owning a company in an offshore country, Panamá. Not solely he had this company, for which he was not declaring any money in Spain, but he first publically denied it, having to admit a few days later when he was found to own another one in the island of Jersey. With this debate still open, a few months later, in September, the media was surprised to find that Soria has been proposed to occupy a role of responsibility in the World Bank, with the approval and support of the government in functions. This role would have given him some peace far from the Spanish media. These roles, often published in the Official Spanish Bulletin (BOE in Spanish), are open for every high civil servant, what was not the case this time. He finally retrieved his candidature, forced by the intensive media coverage of the scandal.
In sum, all these examples show the dramatic political situation Spain is living nowadays. The democratic system is being continuously harmed by those who have made from the institutions and the separation of power their table game, who talk about extremist and antisystem parties as the enemies of the democracy, while being the real responsible of the lack of trust people have on these institutions due to the abuse and misuse politicians do of them. In addition, and despite apparently being the EU country which has grown more economically, the unemployment in Spain is still close to the 20%, being the one related to people under 25 over 40%. Our debt is always increasing and the pension funds are in a critical situation.
It is true that democracy has also meant the greater political support to the conservative party by the population and that it is the only fault of the socialist one to having dropped their role as the truly left-wing opponents, adding themselves to the shrinking ship of the bipartyism. They have left this role to Podemos, which does not count with the strength enough to stop political abuses, but that at least is there to voice the worries of all the disappointed people which do not accept anymore this archaic and paternalistic way of doing politics. Unfortunately, many analysts foresee that it will take ages until a left-wing party takes power again, and may not be anymore the socialist party the one able to gather a critical mass.
Getting political stability should be a reason enough to celebrate, but I think the 29th October has been a very sad day for our democracy. Impunity has won and the perspective for a change and a stronger political regime has been blocked. I am not often positioned with one or another party publically, but I heard during the first investment session on Wednesday the words of Pablo Iglesias, president of Podemos, in Congress, considering all this political panorama and they have sound strong in my mind. While recalling the words of the first Spanish socialist, he stated that “deserving the hatred of the oligarchies is our honor”. And I am afraid this cannot only be considered within a panorama of class clashes, but on putting words to what Spain is living nowadays, a total lack of representation in power, and an increased disillusionment of the population with the authorities.