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Democratic illiteracy

Creating stability counted for more than creating a democratic culture during the Transition. The result: an opaque regime that is growing ever more so

The system of public institutions derived from the transition to democracy after the death of Franco is in a ruinous state. No one doubts this, except its beneficiaries: the leaders of the major parties, who refuse to reform it.

But one of the causes is little noticed: the poverty, the illiterate state of democratic culture in this country. Consider the case of the presiding judge of the Constitutional Court, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos. We know he deliberately concealed a fact that disqualified him for the post: his membership of the ruling Popular Party. And he remains sitting in his post.

As long as such a deception does not bring an automatic resignation, we cannot say that Spain is a democracy of the normal type. To remain in a post that you have obtained by means of a conscious omission is incompatible with democratic culture.

All the more so, if the post is a sensitive one in terms of political independence. Only the authoritarian mentality of one who believes that his person is above the law can fail to resign. This is why it is so grave that the prime minister is defending Pérez de los Cobos.

At the beginning of the Transition and after 40 years of dictatorship under Franco, democratic culture was practically nil in this country. Active resistance to Franco had always been a minority thing, and life “underground” was not a school of democratic usage.

In building a new regime, considerations of stability counted for more than the creation of a democratic culture that did not exist. The result: a regime that is closed and opaque, and growing ever more so.

These have been decades of the de-activation of the democratic spirit, as if the citizen’s role were to only to vote for a government every four years, which then could do as it liked with impunity. The democratic deficit has worsened since the PP returned to power, with a prime minister who systematically shuns public debate, which is the basis of democracy. In the beginning was the word.

Democracy is deliberation and public opinion, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy avoids parliament and the press as much as he can. It has been necessary for the opposition to threaten a non-confidence motion, and for the international press to express stupefaction at his silence, for Rajoy to bend to the pressure and decide to comply with his elementary responsibility: explain to the public a system of corruption that existed when he was the leader of the party.

Is it possible that a prime minister might be unaware of the responsibilities involved? Whenever Rajoy speaks to the press, it is normally with some foreign leader at his side. Press conferences after Cabinet meetings are an established custom which he has not ventured to omit. It never seems to be the right time to answer the questions the citizens are asking.

But this disdain for public debate, and for the citizens, whom he remembers only in saying that they gave him a parliamentary majority, is the expression of a way of understanding the exercise of power: the post-democratic authoritarian way, which implies a deliberate politicization of all the powers of the state.

The PP’s systematic use of the Constitutional Court while in opposition to the government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as a third legislative Chamber to win what it lost in Congress is one example. And now Rajoy has no answer to the political problem of Catalan secessionism, other than to remit it to the judiciary. This approach to public life, which began in the later years of Felipe González, is one of the gravest problems of Spanish democracy.

In any case this patrimonial, undemocratic idea of power and politics is a breeding ground for corruption, which in turn feeds back into the undemocratic habits prevalent in this country. It contaminates the system from top to bottom. Yet the government has yet to propose a single institutional reform aimed at a real redistribution of power. So the deterioration goes on.

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