The parliamentary debate on the Bárcenas case signaled the end of the political term and the onset of the traditional August summer break, but not the conflict. Popular Party (PP) leaders such as the group's secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, have a full agenda of court testimony ahead of them set by investigating Judge Pablo Ruz, and they also need to make a decision regarding the investigative committee requested by the main opposition Socialist Party, although it will likely be stonewalled by the PP's majority.
Political parties' navel-gazing when it comes to their own problems is creating a dearth of arguments and a failure to produce constructive solutions to the crisis, so that issues that have weighed down the political agenda for the last few months will remain wide open when Congress reconvenes.
The heat of the Bárcenas battle has overshadowed the issue of Catalan sovereignty for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Catalan premier Artur Mas' request to negotiate a popular vote on sovereignty, with all its potential for instability, is still a pending matter. Rajoy wants to retake the initiative, but all he is announcing is political cleansing measures: a law for greater financial control over parties, a reform of the Audit Court, a law regulating political functions, criminalizing illegal funding (which does not exist as such in current legislation), and a reform to streamline criminal proceedings.
There is no doubt that reforms are needed in a regulatory system with so many loopholes, but the ruling party must remember that the rules of the game cannot be dictated exclusively by one of the teams.
Summer is a good time to reflect on what to do about citizen disaffection. The number of people who plan to abstain from voting in the next elections is a cause for concern; added to the blank votes and the undecided elements, they make up fully half of all potential voters, according to several surveys.
While polling firms differ on the numbers, they all highlight the same trend: the PP's chances of renewing its absolute majority are nosediving, and the Socialists are failing to recover from their serious setback at the November 2011 general elections. Meanwhile, the leftist coalition IU and the centrist party UPyD are going up in voting intention. And all of it is taking place in an environment of collective dejection and uncertainty.
Elections are still too far off to consider this situation as being consolidated, but the alarms keep going off as a result of events that have become nearly an everyday occurrence in public life: leaders who are targeted for illegal party funding or for misappropriating funds.
Citizen concern over political corruption has risen five points in one month, according to the latest figures by the Center for Sociological Research (CIS). If the political climate remains this bad, it is to be feared that greater partisan polarization will ensue as an easy way of mobilizing disaffected voters. This will come at a price: postponing the necessary reforms to an institutional system that now affords an oppressive, pessimistic image of democracy.