Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Madrid headquarters of the ruling Popular Party (PP) on Tuesday to protest political corruption in the wake of new revelations of alleged graft by former regional government officials. Marchers banged on pots, yelled “the PP is not a party, it’s a gang,” and raised signs bearing messages such as “Your envelope, my cut,” alluding to under-the-table cash bribes paid out by businessmen in exchange for government contracts.
The protest began at 8pm and was organized through social media, bypassing the administrative channels used for filing demonstration requests. As such, it was not authorized by the government; the latter had warned ahead of the event that attendees could face fines under Spain’s new Citizen Security Law, popularly referred to as the Gag Law because of its crackdown on public protest.
Sanctions for attending unauthorized demonstrations, as long as no more than 20 people show up, are typically around €600. But the new legislation leaves the door open for tougher fines depending on how the event plays out. Refusing to break up an unauthorized gathering in a place of public transit when ordered to do so by relevant authorities could entail fines of up to €30,000.
You do the crime, you do the time, as we are witnessing
Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy
Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made his first statement in connection with the string of new scandals affecting his party, which have already led to the arrest of former Madrid premier Ignacio González and pushed party veteran Esperanza Aguirre out of politics altogether after more than three decades at the center of Spanish public life.
“You do the crime, you do the time, as we are witnessing,” Rajoy said at an informal meeting with journalists inside the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Montevideo, Uruguay, where Rajoy is on a Latin American tour that first took him to Brazil.
But that was as far as the Spanish leader, renowned for his ability to avoid thorny questions about domestic issues, would go.
Asked about a conversation he had with Esperanza Aguirre after the latter announced she was stepping down from her seat at Madrid City Council, Rajoy described it as “private, logical and relevant to the situation.”
Prodded by reporters to expand on the matter, Rajoy added: “I really respect her decision.”
He also said that he will do “whatever the courts say” when the time comes for him to provide witness testimony in the Gürtel trial, a massive bribes-for-contracts scheme affecting the PP. It is unclear at this date whether Rajoy will have to physically take the witness stand or whether he will be allowed to file a written deposition.
Rajoy’s main message was that it would be “a serious mistake” to generalize and suspect the entire political class of corruption. He said he feels sure that the latest scandals will not affect the stability of his minority government, and that Spanish citizens are mostly concerned about economic recovery.
Concerns over corruption during Spain’s protracted economic crisis were instrumental in the emergence of newcomer parties Podemos and Ciudadanos. The political fracture led to two inconclusive general elections and 10 months of stalemate, after which Rajoy just barely managed to win reinstatement.
English version by Susana Urra.