Spanish PM silent on corruption after ruling party veteran steps down

Rajoy, currently in Brazil, refuses to comment on Esperanza Aguirre’s decision to resign

Corruption is rearing its ugly head again within the core of Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP). Leaders are being yelled at on the streets once more, and amazement and confusion are among the chief responses to the latest scandal to hit the conservative party in Madrid: Operation Lezo.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Brasilia on Monday.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Brasilia on Monday.AFP
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Rajoy, de viaje en Brasil, elude responder ante la grave crisis de corrupción del PP

This new graft probe has already led to the arrest of former regional premier Ignacio González, and to his predecessor Esperanza Aguirre’s resignation as spokesperson for the PP at Madrid City Council, where the party holds 21 seats.

Yet true to form, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continues to say nothing about the matter, and chooses instead to focus on his international agenda. He was seen in Brazil on Monday, where he made a public appearance next to President Michel Temer but took no questions.

He knew what was in store: a bombardment of queries regarding the latest investigation into kickbacks for contracts back home. It seems that, for now at least, Rajoy’s only response to the plethora of scandals affecting his party – Gürtel, Púnica, Lezo and more – is to travel abroad, keep mum about domestic troubles, and offer speeches about the importance of maintaining economic growth and job creation in Spain.

Younger party leaders have expressed “indignation and shame” at the state of affairs

After Brazil and Uruguay, Rajoy will travel to Brussels and China. His chief concern is to give an sense of business as usual at the international level.

But all is not well back home. Mariano Rajoy and Javier Arenas are the only two remaining members of the PP leadership from the days before 2008, when the Gürtel graft scandal hit the headlines. And while no statements are forthcoming from them, the younger party leaders have already expressed “indignation and shame” at the state of affairs.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (left) with Brazilian President Michel Temer.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (left) with Brazilian President Michel Temer.EVARISTO SA (AFP)

The young deputy secretaries at national party headquarters – people like Pablo Casado, Javier Maroto, Andrea Levy and Fernando Martínez Maillo – have made a private pact to keep their anger under wraps. But they are aware that, ever since their appointment two years ago in a bid to rejuvenate the party’s image, they have been sent out to press conferences, TV studios and public debates to defend the PP’s honesty and internal regeneration, even as some leading party members such as Ignacio González or Rodrigo Rato – the former International Monetary Fund managing director found guilty of misappropriation of funds through his use of complimentary credit cards handed out by struggling banks – continued to line their pockets through shady deals.

The mood among these younger leaders is one of disillusionment, weariness and confusion – but above all, one of impotence. “What more can we do?” is the reply, asked if there is a plan underway to deal with this new wave of corruption. “We will forge ahead, and keep working and focusing on the real problems of Spaniards.”

The PP, which heads a minority government following two inconclusive elections in Spain and a 10-month stalemate, is now mostly hoping that the scandal will blow over, that unemployment figures will continue to drop, that tourists will keep coming in droves this summer, and that opposition parties will run into trouble of their own – particularly the Socialists (PSOE), with their upcoming primaries to elect a new leader.

English version by Susana Urra.


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