The Spanish Constitution recognizes the superior right of parties to reinforce democracy in the face of the temptations of authoritarianism, but the country’s main political forces have not responded to this trust with a rigorous control of their own activities, or early purges of suspected illegal activity within their ranks.
Instead, they have chosen to watch some of their members occasionally sit in the dock, knowing full well how slow the justice system works, in order to convey the sense that cases of wrongdoing are few and far between, as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was still claiming last Sunday.
The real underlying problem is parties’ abuse of their dominant position in the political system
But events have now shown up the short-sightedness of this strategy. After Monday’s operation to break up the latest corruption scheme to come to light, and former Popular Party (PP) secretary general Ángel Acebes’ court appearance over his party’s alleged secret accounts – of which he denies any knowledge – the discourse has changed.
Now, instead of going on and on about their suspects’ uprightness, the PP is immediately revoking their party membership and, through the mouth of Rajoy himself, issuing a public apology over the endless corruption cases.
The corrections were necessary and the apology is appreciated, but they are not enough. The government has been announcing anti-corruption measures for nearly two years, and insists that it is now going to carry them out. If all it means to do is approve previously announced initiatives, their impact will likely be small, even though it is always a good thing to penalize illegal party financing – still not considered a specific crime in Spain. Getting that legislation passed also opens up a window of opportunity for the opposition, which it should make use of.
If the party with an absolute majority refuses to take steps, it can only look forward to increasing degradation before the eyes of weary citizens
But the real underlying problem is the parties’ abuse of their dominant position in the political system, which has become a straitjacket that is unable to provide reasonable guarantees of integrity. It is essential to develop legislation that imposes internal party democracy and transparency as a way to limit their own power; it is also necessary to conduct professional audits and put an end to the fiction of an Audit Court that is in practice controlled by the PP and the Socialist Party. It is not possible to keep functioning with oversight bodies that are so reliant on political parties.
It is hardly to be expected that these changes be carried out by the same leaders who wish to stay in control of appointments and positions. While the justice system works ever harder, proposals for party regeneration should come from a different source, perhaps an apolitical committee of figures named by parliament, or some other formula envisioned by the Constitution. This body’s proposals should then be immediately converted into laws and effective agencies.
The task certainly does not fall to a single political party. But if the party that still retains an absolute majority refuses to take steps in this direction, all it has to look forward to is increasing degradation before the eyes of weary citizens, until it reaches a point where its own possibilities of renewal are lost, and perhaps even those of the entire political system.