This week saw the Luis Barcenas scandal in Spain continuing to engulf the centre right ruling Peoples Party (PP). Mariano Rajoy, who became Spain’s Prime Minister in 2011 after the PP won a majority stake in the Spanish parliament, has now found himself being accused of accepting funding from Barcenas’ secret slush fund, which has landed the former party treasurer in jail on multiple corruption charges.

The scandal began with the discovery of Luis Barcenas’ secret foreign bank accounts where he had be hoarding secret sums of cash away from the prying eyes of Spanish tax authorities. He had been investigated by Spanish authorities for months and in June was arrested for tax evasion, bribery and money laundering amongst other charges, and jailed as his investigators felt he presented a flight risk.

The accusations towards the prime minister stem from the publication of the supposed ‘secret’ accounts of Barcenas by the press. The documents appear to show Rajoy, and several other high ranking PP politicians, both past and present, as apparent recipients of illegal funding from Barcenas. Earlier this week, texts were published by the daily newspaper El Mundo, that seemed to show the Prime Minister was still on close terms with Barcenas, despite purporting to have cut all ties with the disgraced party veteran when his crimes had become apparent.

Barcenas, had been threatening to reveal apparent secret accounts in retaliation for the PP disowning him. In an interview with El Mundo he confirmed the bulk of the allegations levelled at him by the press, even going so far as to state that his party had been breaking campaign finance laws for 20 years. Barcenas also admitted that the PP received illegal donations from construction magnates and other businesses in return for lucrative government contracts, revealing a shadier side to Spain’s construction boom several years before. Some of this money was siphoned off into secret slush funds and is reported to have mounted up to 48 million at one stage. According to Barcenas, Senior party officials, including Rajoy, would receive some of this money in quarterly payments.

The effect on Rajoy’s rule has been, to say the least, very destabilizing. He and his parties popularity has fallen from 44% in 2011’s general election, to 25% according to a recent survey by Metroscopia. There have been ever louder calls for resignation as well. Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, leader of PP’s main rival, the socialist PSOE, called for Rajoy’s immediate resignation, adding that his actions have caused ‘incalculable damage to the country,’ and he has vowed to work with Spain’s other political parties to oust him. PSOE, however, have been struggling to gain any sort of moral high ground, as they themselves are embroiled in an, admittedly less severe, corruption scandal of their own. They will also be unable to instigate a vote of no confidence, as they do not hold enough seats to call for an emergency election.

Calls for resignation have also come from within the PP as well. One of the party’s MPs, who wished to remain anonymous, told France 24 that ‘the best option for Rajoy is to organise a process of handing over leadership of the party to someone else,’ the anonymous state legislator also said that the situation was ‘beyond repair,’

Much like in the UK, Spain is able to select a new PM without going through another general election, and there are rumours that deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Saez de Santamaria, is being considered by some in the party as a contender for a leadership challenge. However, according to some speculators, party structures in Spain are so rigid that rebellions from below are very unlikely to ever succeed, especially with a prime minister who won such a large landslide for the party.

Despite this however, Rajoy is unlikely to resign. With such a large majority in parliament, he has declared that he has a mandate to govern and refuses to bow to what he sees as blackmail by the media and the ex-treasurer himself. It would certainly be a surprise for a Spanish prime minister to resign; there have been very few examples since the new constitution of senior politicians resigning. Ferran Requejo, a political scientist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona told The Local that this is due to ‘a lack of democratic tradition’ in Spain, referring to the fact that for much of the 20th century, Spain was governed by general Franco in a right wing closed economy, and is still struggling with the hangover of that period, where government essentially ran on hidden charges, backhanders and bribes.

Corruption then simply does not seem to be as serious an issue in Spain as compared to other parts of the EU. Many have agreed with Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba’s statement that in other EU states, the issue would have been dealt with far differently, and far more severely. There is a certain culture in Spain that sees those accused of corruption as clever people who have managed to make money from their position, rather than being seen as thieves or liars as they normally are portrayed in other western countries. This is evident in that it simply has not generated that much outrage in the general population. Though there have been sporadic protests outside the PP headquarters in Madrid, the turnout is far lower than the mass rallies that have been held in protest of unemployment and austerity measures. Indeed, corruption seems to have little effect on politicians standing at all, evident in the last local elections, 70% of candidates who faced charges were elected.

Some remain hopeful that Spain may be on the brink of a massive sea change in terms of these attitudes, and the case of Luis Barcenas may well be the straw that broke the camels back. The fact that even the right wing press, who are usually staunchly protective of their favoured PP, have become outspoken critics of its practises is a promising move. However, with Rajoy looking unlikely to resign at the moment, and the public apparently disinterested, it may be business as usual for Spain’s political class, at least for the immediate future.

BY: Jack Briggs

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