Spain’s biggest party split as under-fire senator hangs on

Growing numbers of Popular Party officials accuse former Valencia mayor Rita Barberá of exploiting her partial immunity from prosecution

Senator Rita Barberá walking out of her house on Thursday.
Senator Rita Barberá walking out of her house on Thursday.MIGUEL ÁNGEL POLO / EFE

Senior members of Spain’s Popular Party (PP), which heads the country’s interim government, are divided over a veteran member’s decision to give up party membership while clinging to her Senate seat despite being at the center of a corruption probe.

Several high-ranking officials within the conservative party have expressed indignation at the fact  Rita Barberá is refusing to give up her seat, which grants her immunity from the lower courts.

She has made a mistake, and by remaining in the Senate she is only prolonging her agony

PP official Javier Maroto

Barberá, a veteran party member and personal friend of acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, served for 24 years as the mayor of Valencia, a major city on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

The 68-year-old politician’s image has been tarnished after her name turned up in Operation Taula, an investigation into illegal financing in PP-run towns and cities across the Valencia region.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced that it will investigate her alleged role in an illegal party financing network thought to have operated out of Valencia City Hall. She could soon become an official suspect in the case.

On Thursday, several PP officials publicly voiced their discontent with Barberá’s attitude, which could hurt the party ahead of regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country on September 25.

“It is evident that she is hanging on to her seat in order to preserve her aforamiento [partial legal immunity], and this decision does not comply with the principles of politics, a public service where dignity and leading by example should be the guiding rules,” said Javier Maroto, deputy secretary for Sectorial Action.

“She has made a mistake, and by remaining in the Senate she is only prolonging her agony,” he added.

The PP’s official spokesman, Pablo Casado, noted that giving up her seat “would be better for her and for the party.” Similar thoughts were voiced throughout the day by Madrid premier Cristina Cifuentes, Senate deputy speaker Pedro Sanz, and the head of the Catalan branch of the PP, Xavier García Albiol.

Only the party’s secretary general, Dolores de Cospedal, said it was enough for Barberá to turn in her party membership.

Barberá was awarded a Senate seat in July 2015, shortly after losing the Valencia mayor’s office to Joan Ribó, of the leftist regional party Compromís. Her appointment, and that of other former mayors and regional premiers, prompted public criticism to the effect that the Spanish Senate is a “chamber for retired elephants.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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