The fall of Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes should linger in the collective memory of the country as an example of exactly the kind of behavior that hurts democracy and sullies the name of Spain’s politics and its institutions. On the one hand, there are the facts themselves: a fraudulent master’s degree (an embarrassment given the disrespect it displays for universities and other students), and an alleged shoplifting incident. In the latter case alone, the Popular Party (PP) politician has failed to live up to the lowest possible standards of what should be expected and demanded of someone in her position.
But these actions are not the only cause for concern – rather, it is the handling of the scandal up to her resignation on Wednesday that is the real problem. Her denials and lies; the complicity of university professors, who were ready to jump to her aid by falsifying official documents; the silence and paralysis of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy; the parade of support and acclaim from PP senior officials for Cifuentes at the party’s recent convention in Seville – support that continued until just hours before her resignation, when it was already more than evident that fraud had been committed; and finally the dredging up of an incriminating video, kept hidden since 2011, to politically condemn her in a mafia-like attack. Not only has the chain of command among PP political chiefs failed, but also there has been the use of the worst practices in politics using this kind of low blow that is more suited to a group of criminals than the country’s political class.
The Popular Party in Madrid has reached a new level of rottenness and corruption – comparable only to its branch in the Valencia region. Valencia may have been rocked by numerous corruption scandals, including the notorious Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case, but Madrid has not been far behind: its top officials have also been implicated in Gürtel, and the region has had its own share of scandals, notably the Púnica case – a bid-rigging scheme that involved at least €250 million in public contracts.
That scandal led to jail time for Madrid’s regional premier Ignacio González and the former PP secretary general Francisco Granados, and cast suspicion on the region’s economic activities. The underhand actions of PP branches in Valencia and Madrid have reached all parts of the PP family as well as senior officials from the municipal and regional government. Implosion is likely to follow in organizations like these with such a long criminal history, and that it is no doubt what we are witnessing in the Madrid regional government. The fall of Cifuentes – beyond her petty crimes – comes in the context of her party’s vendettas and conflicts, and this chapter is unlikely to be the last.
The Popular Party must face up to this reality with urgency and determination, clean their ranks of corruption and review the political fallout caused by their handling of the Cifuentes case. The moment Cifuentes – who refused to resign for more than a month – said her future was in Rajoy’s hands, the prime minister was responsible for prolonging a crisis that has not only stained the PP, but also our institutions and the principles of integrity that should define public governance. The loss of respect for politics and politicians is the most damaging consequence of so much irresponsibility.
English version by Melissa Kitson.