The prime minister has publicly renewed his support for Health Minister Ana Mato, specifying that he considers it “fair” to do so. By backing the minister, Mariano Rajoy is going against the wishes of the opposition, the majority of public opinion and even sectors of his own party, which are pressuring him to remove Mato from office. The minister has become a burden for the Popular Party (PP) leadership, which already has more than its share of problems. She should urgently step down from the front line, even if it is only to stop causing damage to her political boss, who evidently will not — or cannot — seize the initiative.
Loyalty is a fundamental value in a team of leaders. But this does not mean that everybody should simply hang tight until the storm passes. Spain has a lot to learn from more democratic countries when it comes to political habits and customs. A former British minister, Chris Huhne, abandoned politics a week ago when it emerged that he had convinced his wife to take his penalty points on a traffic violation. The events in question took place 10 years ago. Labour Party politician Peter Mandelson resigned twice — once for failing to declare a loan from a friend, and a second time for allegedly helping an Indian millionaire obtain a British passport. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a German defense minister, stepped down when news broke that he had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, while German Education Minister Annette Schavan has just resigned for similar reasons. Are these great crimes, instances of enormous corruption? No. Most are cases of improper conduct, which the public does not tolerate in open democracies. It is also not unusual for a nation’s leader to let his best friend fall, as former US president Bill Clinton did in 1994 with his chief of staff Mack McLarty, even though their friendship went all the way back to their school days.
Ana Mato should step down from the government, without this representing a presumption of either guilt or innocence
Nobody questions Mato’s loyalty to Rajoy, or the success of the electoral campaign she led in 2011. And it is possible that she really did separate from her husband Jesús Sepúlveda in the year 2000, which would explain her reluctance to admit that she benefited from the money used by the Gürtel bribes-for-contracts ring to pay for gifts, trips and parties for the couple. But the fact is, she did not formalize that separation until many years later. If she was previously unaware (and that would already disqualify her) of the suspicious origins of the money that paid for the trips and parties, now she is fully aware.
Ana Mato should step down from the government, without this representing a presumption of either guilt or innocence. She is not the only one who should resign, but her case is the clearest at the present time. The head of the executive cannot continue to spend so much time defending her when other cases of politicians whose personal expenses were funded by allegedly corrupt figures are coming to light. It is also unfathomable why the PP is so vehemently defending the paychecks that Mato’s ex has been receiving as a party employee, despite his involvement in the Gürtel case.