Sleaze and slush funds: Spain’s “po­lit­i­cal de­cay”

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It’s the end for Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, said La Van­guardia (Barcelona). Spain’s con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter was “evicted” by a vote of no con­fi­dence last Fri­day – the first time this has hap­pened in Spain’s mod­ern his­tory. The vote, launched by Pe­dro Sánchez, leader of the So­cial­ists, was passed by a nar­row mar­gin of 180 deputies to 169. And un­der Spain’s con­sti­tu­tion, this en­ti­tled Sánchez to take over as PM. Ul­ti­mately, though, Ra­joy was brought down by sleaze – by the “dev­as­tat­ing” sen­tence given the week be­fore in the “Gür­tel” case. This was the big­gest cor­rup­tion trial in Spain’s his­tory, said Fer­nando J. Pérez in El País (Madrid). It cul­mi­nated in one of Spain’s high­est crim­i­nal courts, the Au­di­en­cia Na­cional, find­ing the for­mer trea­surer of Ra­joy’s Peo­ple’s Party (PP), Luis Bárce­nas, guilty of crimes in­clud­ing cor­rup­tion, fraud and money-laun­der­ing, and jail­ing him for 33 years. At the heart of the case was the ty­coon Francisco Correa, who mas­ter­minded a shady net­work of busi­ness­peo­ple and right-wing politi­cians (hence the po­lice code name “Gür­tel”, which is the Ger­man word for correa – “belt” in Span­ish). PP of­fi­cials were of­fered gifts in ex­change for hefty pub­lic works con­tracts. The court found 29 de­fen­dants guilty of tak­ing bribes, em­bez­zle­ment, money laun­der­ing and ped­dling in­flu­ence – mainly dur­ing the boom years be­fore the fi­nan­cial cri­sis; Correa was handed a 51-year jail sen­tence. Most damn­ingly for Ra­joy, the court found that the PP had run a se­cret slush fund us­ing kick­backs.

Not only did the judges or­der the party to pay a s240,000 fine, said Sam Jones in The Guardian, but they also “ex­pressed doubts over the cred­i­bil­ity of the tes­ti­mony Ra­joy had given last July, when he be­came the first serv­ing Span­ish prime min­is­ter to give ev­i­dence in a crim­i­nal trial”. The PM, who had been in power since 2011, and is “famed for his pow­ers of sur­vival, sud­denly looked vul­ner­a­ble”. Op­po­nents scented blood. Sánchez and his so­cial­ist PSOE filed a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence, declar­ing that Ra­joy had “se­ri­ously dam­aged the health of our democ­racy”. For most of last week, it looked like Ra­joy would scrape through. But Sánchez even­tu­ally as­sem­bled a coali­tion of the smaller par­ties. In the end, the sup­port of the tiny Basque Na­tion­al­ist group tipped the bal­ance against Ra­joy.

He should have quit and called new elec­tions, said El País. Ra­joy’s de­ci­sion to cling to power in the face of such ap­palling al­le­ga­tions was “sui­ci­dal”. But this was “a duel be­tween two politi­cians without a fu­ture”. Sánchez does not have “the po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to lead a sta­ble ex­ec­u­tive”. The PSOE has only 84 deputies, out of 350, in Con­gress. Sánchez doesn’t even have a ma­jor­ity in­side the “Franken­stein” coali­tion of far-left-wingers, re­gional par­ties and sep­a­ratists that he as­sem­bled for the no-con­fi­dence vote. He will be forced to govern us­ing the bud­get re­cently passed by the PP, which he con­demned as “an­ti­so­cial and re­gres­sive”. Sánchez has also ex­pressed the de­sire to en­ter into “di­a­logue” with Cat­alo­nia’s pro-in­de­pen­dence par­ties – code for de­cid­ing when an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum should be held. For Sánchez to try to rule in these con­di­tions, said El Mundo (Madrid), cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion of “ex­tra­or­di­nary in­sta­bil­ity”.

This is an­other step in the “po­lit­i­cal de­cay” of Spain’s democ­racy since the eco­nomic cri­sis be­gan in 2008, said Jordi Bonells in Le Monde (Paris). Ever since then, its po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have be­haved like “os­triches”, with no clue as to how to pre­vent the coun­try’s so­cial fab­ric de­grad­ing. Lit­tle won­der that the tra­di­tional par­ties of Right and Left, the PP and PSOE, are “vis­i­bly im­plod­ing”. It’s the bold new­com­ers, Pode­mos and Ci­u­dadanos, that now “crys­tallise vot­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions and anx­i­eties”. But al­though they “have the wind in their sails”, they are not yet ready for gov­ern­ment; they do not have the so­lu­tions to the na­tion’s prob­lems. “Spain is dis­in­te­grat­ing in a Europe that is strug­gling to find it­self.”

Ra­joy and Sánchez: two politi­cians without a fu­ture?

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