Maybe Rajoy is right: deny everything and it’ll go away
The scandal implicating the Spanish government’s Partido Popular goes right to the top, but by skirting democratic norms, the prime minister is managing to pretend it doesn’t exist.
By Guy Hedgecoe
“In Spain…what happens is that sometimes we have a certain tendency to talk about the things that aren’t the best and sometimes we should be talking about the things that are important.”
This comment, delivered at an Opel car factory in Zaragoza, is vintage Rajoy. The abstract language, the circumventing of the subject at hand, the use of “sometimes” or “a certain tendency” in order to avoid concrete terms. And, of course, complete avoidance of the word “Bárcenas”: the elephant in the room.
Rajoy’s point was that, instead of talking about the corruption scandal engulfing his conservative Partido Popular (PP) due to increasingly detailed allegations of an illegal slush fund from which he supposedly received under-the-table payments and his party would have committed systematic tax fraud and violated electoral laws, we should be talking about production of the Opel Mokka in 2014.
And in fairness to Rajoy, I will talk about it, a bit.
The decision to build the Mokka in the Zaragoza plant reportedly safeguards 5,800 jobs. Those in the know say that the stylish SUV is popular not only with experts, but with customers as well.
Meanwhile, away from the Opel plant, Rajoy surely realises how serious the Bárcenas affair is. In terms of scale and how far it reaches, it competes with the GAL death squad scandal that helped bring down the Socialist administration of Felipe González. The national (and international) press is buzzing with the story in the wake of new details revealed by El Mundo newspaper, which published this week what seem to be original Bárcenas notebooks and interviewed the man himself. In each instance, Rajoy and his party were explicitly implicated.
“I’ve read the international media and this is a disaster,” said Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba on Thursday.
“I don’t know if Rajoy can take the burden of suspicion. But the prime minister shouldn’t have to. Can you imagine the British prime minister or the German chancellor in a case like this? They would go running to parliament.”
But Rajoy hasn’t gone running to parliament. His PP, which controls Congress, has flatly refused to allow a parliamentary session in which the prime minister is questioned about the scandal.
“Institutions aren’t supposed to be the defence lawyers of any prisoner,” said the PP’s Esteban González Pons on Wednesday, justifying the refusal to hold a Bárcenas-themed congressional session. Rajoy, he added, “has to dedicate himself to what he dedicates himself, which is governing.”
Spanish politicians have long thumbed their noses at the conventions of democracy over the summer period (and often the rest of the year too). But this is clearly taking Rajoy’s communication deficit to a new level. Amid the biggest political crisis Spain has seen for years, the prime minister will not appear in Congress until September.
It’s clearly a disgrace, there’s no excusing it and it undermines not just image of the government, but that of Spain.
And yet, I have a sneaky suspicion that Rajoy might be right: if he puts his hands over his ears, shouts “blah blah blah” loudly enough and generally skips the norms expected of a leader of a modern democracy in such a situation, he might be able to make it all go away.
Remember, this scandal has been going on since January. Nobody has resigned over it and the Spanish justice system works at a glacial rate. Soon we will be halfway through Rajoy’s four-year term – and then there will be only two more years for him to get through, while denying any wrongdoing. Another point worth recalling is that Rajoy won the 2011 election on a landslide even though his party had already been mired up to its waist in the Gürtel corruption case.
Bárcenas is different, we thought, when it broke six months ago. But so far, the PP, with its congressional majority, has been able to insist otherwise.
The economy is the only thing that matters, is this government’s mantra as it blithely wades on through the sleaze. Opel Mokkas are the important thing, not illegal donations and envelopes containing wads of money.
And so it follows that if the economy starts to suffer as a result of this scandal, which is possible but by no means certain, that will be when Rajoy really will have to lift up his head and say the word “Bárcenas”. Until that time, he can continue to make fools of the 47 million people he governs.
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Published: Jul 12 2013
Category: Featured, Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: Bárcenas, El Mundo, Maybe Rajoy, prime minister, scandal, spain economy, spain news