PM warns Spaniards “not to play Russian roulette” with Podemos

Popular Party convention focuses on attacking the anti-austerity group

Carlos E. Cué
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the last day of the PP national convention.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the last day of the PP national convention.Angel Díaz (EFE)

The weekend’s Popular Party (PP) convention served to confirm that the conservatives no longer view the Socialists as their main opposition, as has been the case throughout recent Spanish history.

Their place has been taken by new anti-establishment party Podemos, which PP leaders referred to time and again throughout the three-day gathering.

The picture that emerges is that of an embattled ruling party attempting to portray the new emerging force as a dangerous enemy to combat, and itself as the haven of stability that the country needs.

“We cannot gamble away our children’s future on a Russian roulette of frivolity, incompetence and populism. We cannot,” said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, using a play on words (“we cannot” is “no podemos” in Spanish).

They offer nothing, just confusion, quirky ideas and internal fighting

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy

The message of fear will in all likelihood become the cornerstone of the PP’s campaign. Political analysts said that if all else fails, leaders could always ask their voters to go out and cast their ballots against Podemos.

“Spain cannot afford to go back in time or leap into the void. We cannot throw overboard the sacrifices made by so many Spaniards,” added Rajoy, in reference to claims that Podemos’s economic policies mirror those of populist Latin American regimes and will take Spain to ruin.

His message took on added urgency as Greeks on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favor of Syriza, a radical leftist party that considers itself a “sister” organization to Podemos. Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’s leader, said Spaniards would soon be making the same kinds of changes at general elections scheduled for later this year.

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“In the general elections there will be two options: the PP or Podemos”

“They offer nothing, just confusion, quirky ideas and internal fighting,” insisted Rajoy. Meanwhile, the PP, “with its mistakes and all, offers stability, security, moderation, Constitution, freedom and equality among all Spaniards.”

But it is unclear how these “mistakes” will affect results at the polls. The PP has been laboring under a series of corruption scandals, including Gürtel and Púnica, that forced Rajoy to issue a public apology last year.

If Podemos was the undisputed focus of the PP convention, there was another major presence at the event: former prime minister José María Aznar, who once tapped Rajoy as his successor, but who for years now has been expressing disagreement with the latter’s performance at the helm of the party.

On Friday, the honorary president of the PP took to the podium to ask two embarrassing questions: “Where is the PP? Does it really hope to win the elections?”

Faithful to his style, Rajoy answered the questions with another question.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.ALEJANDRO RUESGA

“The first thing we must ask ourselves is: has there or hasn’t there been a change in Spain since our party has been in power?”

The prime minister then went on to list all the positive indicators, including an incipient economic recovery, that he sees as the result of his administration.

There was also a third important presence at the convention – one that was never mentioned, not even when reporters raised specific questions about Luis Bárcenas, the former party treasurer who has just been released from preventive prison in connection with the Gürtel case.

Upon his release, Bárcenas said Rajoy had been aware from day one about the existence of parallel party accounts reflecting illegal donations and side payments to top party officials.

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