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Why Spain needs early elections

Only a stable alternative government will be able to lead the country out of the current political crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.ULY MARTIN (EL PAÍS)

The governance of Spain cannot be left in the hands of a political leader who has lost all credibility. The steady trickle of corruption scandals that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party thought they could survive has become a flood with last week’s court ruling on the massive Gürtel kickbacks scandal, and it has overwhelmed and drowned the party in a series of ever more devastating and unacceptable facts.

This ruling has irrevocably broken the defensive strategy followed by the government up until now and put an inexorable spotlight on two elements that have so far been able to survive: the organization, the Popular Party (PP), which has been rendered completely disqualified by its criminal nature; and its leader, Rajoy, whose statements on the existence of a corrupt and parallel accounting structure in the PP lack all credibility, according to the court and prosecutor.

It is a national emergency that cannot be solved simply with party compromises

That a court of law in a democratic state could reach such a damning sentence on the ruling party in government must only mean the most serious of consequences. The PP wanted to delay assuming political responsibility until the court had made its ruling. Now the ruling has been announced and the evasion of the issue of corruption has come to an end. The damage the party has done to itself with this defensive strategy is enormous, even suicidal regarding whether it can continue as the governing political force.

More serious still is the damage that could be done to the democratic system, which has already been eroded by corruption cases and the poor management of Spain’s most pressing problems, such as the Catalan secessionist drive, which is currently the main threat to the country’s stability.

The loss of confidence in the leader and the party that governs this country must be addressed by the people. Given the situation and the correlation of political forces in parliament, going to the polls is the only option that will achieve a stable and coherent alternative government that can take the helm and rescue Spain from the serious political crisis caused by the damning Gürtel ruling and the separatist drive. We cannot see any stable or consistent combination in the current composition of the parliament that offers an alternative government that can be formed as soon as possible.

It is a national emergency that cannot be solved simply with party compromises. It is the health of the governance of the country, clearly under threat today, that must be preserved above all else. Any agreement must be approved by early elections that put an end to a government that, given the current situation, will be on its last legs once its coalition partner Ciudadanos withdraws support for the party.

The leadership of Mariano Rajoy is at a dead end. The prime minister has missed the opportunity to make a graceful exit by calling early elections. The PP leader has also mistakenly handled the corruption scandals. Instead of developing a strategy to fight corruption, he has chosen to play down the accusation in the cases involving him, dismissing them as a spurious campaign and denying the charges. He has systematically avoided taking political responsibility, putting clarification of the facts in the hands of the courts, trusting that the time and logic of the justice system would exonerate his party of corruption.

The leadership of Spain cannot be left in the hands of a political leader who has lost all credibility

The accumulated damage of looking the other way has been enormous. Instead of cleaning up those responsible in an exemplary fashion and cutting off any root that even hints at corruption, the party has kept accused politicians in their posts until they were scorched by the media and public ire, causing irrevocable harm to the image of the party. The time bought with the judicial process has allowed an endless trickle of testimonies, accusations and rulings to spread the perception of the widespread corruption in the PP.

Nor the withdrawal of support by its coalition partner Ciudadanos or the presentation of a no-confidence motion by the main opposition have been able to force Rajoy to move an inch from the passivity that has caused so much damage to his party and to the country. His criticism that the Spanish Socialists’ (PSOE) no-confidence motion could weaken and damage Spain is another way of denying reality: we are not judging now the political tactics of others but rather Rajoy’s ability to continue governing the country, and this cannot be based on past possible economic successes but on his political and moral authority, which, at present, he lacks.

At this point, the least-damaging option to political and economic stability is to force early elections as soon as possible. It is too early to say what is the best instrument to reach this goal, but what is clear is that the main political forces should be able to arrive at an agreement.

The fragmentation of parliament and the number of parties that are pushing for unilateral independence at the expense of the law will make decision-making difficult. Compromising with the Catalan separatists would be crossing a red line. But we need to think about a political majority that can force Rajoy to consult the people. The markets and Spain’s risk premium have already warned of the danger of maintaining this political uncertainty.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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