Voter loyalty to the ruling Popular Party has been shrinking according to recent opinion polls, and current political events are only aggravating the feeling of estrangement between the party and a sector of its electorate. Recent expressions of dissidence by several veteran figures of the party have now been joined by former Prime Minister José María Aznar’s planned absence from next weekend’s party conference in Valladolid, on the pretext of foreign trips, in a gesture that accentuates a certain feeling of ostracism around the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Antiterrorist policy and the party line in the Basque Country form the backdrop to the schism apparent in the appearance of the party Vox, created by right-wing dissidents in the PP, and in the hardliner Jaime Mayor Oreja’s refusal to run again as the PP’s leading candidate in elections to the European Parliament in May. The fact that Rajoy declined to employ Mayor Oreja shows that the prime minister has decided to face up to the need for a certain internal clarification.
It was unsustainable to continue supporting those who endlessly complain that the principles of democracy are being trampled and that terrorism is triumphing despite the blood spilt, and at the same time back a political team within the Basque PP, led by Arantza Quiroga, that is seeking to establish a foothold in the center ground in the region.
Rajoy is paying the price for using victims associations to wear down the Zapatero government
The guardians of the hard right consider that they have been betrayed; they complain bitterly about the release of imprisoned ETA terrorists, as decreed by the courts; and they insist that the victims are being shown no respect — their aim apparently being that the political handling of the Basque problem has to be submitted to their previous nihil obstat. The recent confrontation in the cemetery where ETA victim Gregorio Ordoñez is buried, between his sister and several leaders of the Basque PP, has exacerbated the conflict playing out in the right wing of Spain’s governing party.
Rajoy and his team are now paying the price for having made use of the hardline victims’ associations to wear down the Zapatero government while the PP was in opposition. But this comes on top of the general vagueness of the governing party’s policy, and of the message it conveys to the voters. An inept handling of projects of a genuinely political nature — from the new law on education to the abortion reform — is mingled with a reluctance to define a clear position on the secessionist challenge in Catalonia or on the definitive end to ETA. And while it is not the government’s direct responsibility, the failure of the privatization of healthcare management in Madrid, and the disasters of other projects in the region, complicate the party’s future in one of its principal fiefdoms.
Rajoy has so far trusted to the passage of time, being shielded by his clear parliamentary majority and the fact that there is a long way to go until the next national elections. But time is passing: a variety of other elections are approaching, which have got the party worried because, apart from the European Parliament vote, the party’s position is far from secure in several regional and local contests. The party conference may serve as a step toward the PP’s clarification of its political line, and away from options that serve only to drag out existing conflicts, to the detriment of social coexistence.