Mariano Rajoy fights for political life as Spanish corruption allegations snowball
Prime minister denies accusations party got payments under the counter
Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he ruled out stepping down after opposition leaders called for him to leave office due to a growing scandal over alleged illegal financing of the ruling People’s Party. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has dismissed as malicious rumour corruption allegations that have snowballed in recent days and left him battling to save his political life.
Mr Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP) has been rocked by accusations that he and colleagues received under- the-table payments from a long-standing party fund that was financed by corporate donations. The content of notebooks belonging to former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas that detail the alleged payments and donations have been published in national newspapers since January.
But in recent days new damaging evidence has been unveiled. And on Sunday El Mundo published the content of text messages of support Mr Rajoy sent to Mr Bárcenas, who is currently in prison on fraud charges.
Yesterday, Mr Rajoy denied the accusations during a press conference in Madrid alongside his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk, although he did not deny sending the text messages.
“A prime minister can’t always be coming out every day to face insinuations, rumours and self-seeking information of every kind that is published,” he said.
“Spain is a serious country and I want it to continue to be so.”
However, also yesterday, Mr Bárcenas gave a high court judge further details about the PP’s alleged slush fund.
In a highly anticipated, five-hour appearance, the former party treasurer confirmed the existence of the illegal fund and that he had handed envelopes of cash to senior figures such as Mr Rajoy and the current PP deputy leader, María Dolores de Cospedal.
The latest developments have hardened the stance of the opposition Socialist Party, which is now calling for the prime minister to step aside and make way for an untarnished party colleague.
Although Spain has seen many corruption scandals in recent years, this is by far the most serious, as reaches to the top of the government and has been the subject of a seemingly constant flow of damning revelations.
“In a lot of other countries the prime minister would have resigned by now,” said Josep Lobera, a sociologist at Madrid’s Autónoma University.
Mr Lobera said the prime minister has so far sought to ride out the scandal with the stoicism often associated with those from his native Galicia, in northwestern Spain.
“[Mr Rajoy] has that attitude of: ‘There’s no problem here, everything will work out okay in the end.’ That has worked for him so far, but every week new allegations seem to come out,” he said.
The slowness of the Spanish justice system would seem to have encouraged Mr Rajoy to take this approach. Although Mr Bárcenas finally went to prison last month after several years of being investigated, no senior figures in the PP or the government have yet resigned over the affair.
In addition, the PP has a commanding majority in congress, which has allowed the party to stonewall opposition attempts to give Mr Rajoy a parliamentary cross-examination about the scandal.
Cross-party opposition front
Similarly, that majority means efforts by the Socialists to forge a cross-party opposition front that can pressure the prime minister into resigning look unlikely to succeed.
However, with the Bárcenas scandal eroding the credibility of the PP, the government, and by extension Spain, which is trying to emerge from a deep recession, there is a feeling that Mr Rajoy’s party could end up being his biggest problem.
Analysts point to former prime minister José María Aznar and the party’s leader in Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, both of whom have openly criticised Mr Rajoy’s leadership in recent weeks.
These two PP heavyweights appear to represent the tip of a potentially damaging iceberg for him.
“Rajoy isn’t the resigning type,” said Mr Lobera. “But party loyalty is being tested.”