Scandals as bitter as a traitor’s kiss
Feb 19th 2009 | MADRID
Sleaze and disunity trip up the once-confident People’s Party
THE Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, may be presiding over an economy in sharp recession. Yet the opposition People’s Party (PP) can scarcely make its criticism heard over the din of its own scandals.
Polls predict that, despite unemployment running at 14%, Mr Zapatero’s Socialists will gain votes in two elections on March 1st for regional governments in Galicia and the Basque country. In Galicia, the Socialists may once again form the government; in the Basque country they may lead it for the first time in 25 years.
That would be a blow to the PP leader, Mariano Rajoy, himself a Galician. He has already lost two general elections and his party, unsurprisingly, seethes with barely contained rebellion. His leadership, ever at risk, has been undermined by a bewildering succession of scandals. A controversial investigating magistrate, Baltasar Garzón, has jailed three businesspeople close to the PP. Newspapers talk of bribes and backhanders to party officials in town halls and regional governments. A former senior PP official in Galicia is now in prison; a PP mayor from Boadilla del Monte, a town near Madrid, and a member of the PP-run Madrid regional government, have resigned; and deals done in Valencia, another region run by the PP, are also under legal scrutiny.
All this has exposed the intensity of the party’s in-fighting. Judge Garzón’s investigation was prompted, it is reported, by the recording of a conversation handed in by disgruntled PP members. A secondary scandal, in which senior PP members from Madrid have been spied on, points to almost paranoid mistrust within the party.
Mr Rajoy denies that any dirty money has gone to the PP’s coffers. “I give my word that the party has not financed itself with this corruption, not that I know of,” he says. The PP likes to cast itself as victim—of the press, the judge, the government and unscrupulous businessmen. The party’s octogenarian founding president, Manuel Fraga, goes one further, citing Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. “If Jesus Christ can have something like that happen with his personnel selection, imagine what mere mortals can do,” he says.
Time, and the courts, will reveal the scale of any wrongdoing. The political damage, however, is already apparent. Perhaps most upsetting for PP loyalists are newspaper photographs of three of those under investigation, dressed in tailcoats or gowns, as guests at the wedding of the daughter of José María Aznar, the former PP prime minister.
Mr Aznar’s eight years in power, ending in 2004, are regarded as the party’s high point. There is no suggestion that Mr Aznar is involved in any scandal. But to have his lustrous image tarnished, even just by casual association, is as painful to party stalwarts as a traitor’s kiss.