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