PARTY IN CRISIS

PP split over fallout from Bárcenas’ corruption revelations

Ruling party divided between those who wish for a complete overhaul and others who say a gentle transition will win back voter confidence

PP number three Javier Arenas leaving the High Court in Madrid after giving testimony on Tuesday
PP number three Javier Arenas leaving the High Court in Madrid after giving testimony on TuesdayULY MARTIN (EL PAÍS)

The credibility crisis engulfing the Popular Party in the wake of the Bárcenas affair has led officials to speak internally of a profound revamping of the ruling conservatives.

The former treasurer's courtroom revelations over alleged illegal party financing and cash bonus payments spanning two decades - unparalleled since Spain's return to democracy - have resulted in a sharp drop in voter confidence. One sector of the party believes a complete overhaul of the higher echelon is needed while another would prefer to see a more gentle transition with secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal continuing in her leadership role with European elections looming next year.

"A conference such as the one planned in October is not sufficient to make changes, an extraordinary convention is needed to create a completely new executive with [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy at its head. His leadership is not under question but it is necessary to face a new era - after the Bárcenas scandal - with an unblemished team," a PP official told EL PAÍS. "It will be a new PP that will pass through a transitional phase: a party that will seek to connect with citizens through some new faces."

The other solution being mooted within the PP is a partial changing of the guard, with De Cospedal retained and surrounded by supporters, and Javier Arenas jettisoned. "Everything linked to Bárcenas needs to be removed and De Cospedal cannot be the victim because her association with the former treasurer is non-existent," say party sources. "Her resignation would send out a very negative image of the party and its handling of the case. Furthermore, it would reduce her chances of winning [the premiership] in Castilla-La Mancha again."

A change of government because of the scandal would not be appropriate"

"A change of government as a result of the scandal would not be appropriate, because no ministers are implicated in Bárcenas' papers," a PP official said. Of the Cabinet, only Rajoy's name appears in the ex-treasurer's notorious ledgers. Agriculture Minister Miguel Arias Cañete has made no secret of his desire to stand in European elections and his naming as a candidate would present the PP with an opportunity to reshuffle its pack. A year ago Rajoy said: "Arenas will stay here because I need him. I want to make that clear." Now, due to his relationship with Bárcenas, all bets are off for the party number three.

In any case, the final decision will rest with the prime minister who may opt, as is his custom, to wait out the scandal or deliver an unexpected round of changes after the summer. Bárcenas' statements to the judge have already prompted a congressional appearance by Rajoy in an attempt to minimize the effect of the affair on public opinion and to avoid a censure motion as threatened by the Socialist Party. However, Bárcenas has been able to drip-feed political dynamite to the judge and the main opposition party has broken relations with the PP amid calls for Rajoy's head.

The scale of the scandal, which has precipitated the largest investigation into a political party ever mounted, has been reflected in the High Court this week. Two former secretary generals and the current party number two have been called to testify as witnesses, representing two faces of the PP: Francisco Álvarez-Cascos and Arenas, the old guard, and De Cospedal, the modern face of the conservative party. Cascos broke from the party some time ago but Arenas remains a heavyweight and close to the prime minister.

However, since the party conference of 2012 Arenas's activity at PP headquarters has been practically zero and since the scandal broke he has been keeping a low public profile.

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