Thursday, May 31, 2018

SPAIN: Ruling govt collapses due to corruption, Catalan

Rajoy Falls, Paying Price for Generation of Corruption in Spain.

Prime minister abandons parliament as support collapses
Socialists set to win no-confidence vote on Friday morning
Pedro Sanchez gives a speech at the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament on May 31.Photographer: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/AFP via Getty Images

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s resistance was finally broken Thursday, overwhelmed by the drumbeat of corruption revelations that has grown throughout his seven years in office.

Rajoy, 63, didn’t even turn up to the parliament in Madrid for the afternoon session as one party after another declared its support for Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez’s no-confidence motion. By the end of the session, the government ranks were peppered with empty seats as ministers and backbenchers abandoned the chamber.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the debate, Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal denied reports that Rajoy would resign to avoid defeat in Friday’s vote, but she accepted that Sanchez is set to replace him as prime minister.

Elected by a landslide in 2011 as Spain’s property crash spiraled into a full-blown financial crash, Rajoy took a European bailout to fix the country’s banking system and laid the foundations for an economic rebound that’s now in its fifth year.

Catalans and Corruption

But the seeds of his demise were there from the start. His 2010 legal challenge to new powers for the Catalan government triggered a resurgence in separatism that would fatally damage his authority seven years later when the region threatened to break away from Spain. And prosecutors were already investigating the PP corruption racket that ultimately forced him out.

“He leaves Spain with a more divided society and a political culture that has suffered great damage,” Alejandro Quiroga, professor of Spanish history at Newcastle University, England, said in a phone interview. “The corruption has been brutal.”

Mariano Rajoy
Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

Rajoy is the last of a generation of conservative politicians who shaped modern Spain for good and ill. He was at Jose Maria Aznar’s side as the PP’s first prime minister fanned the second economic boom since Spain’s return to democracy in in 1978.

Rajoy served as minister of public administration, then education, interior and eventually deputy prime minister. In 2003, Aznar handed over to him as party leader. According to a verdict by the National Court last week, officials at party HQ in Madrid were already taking kickbacks from companies seeking public contracts.
‘M. Rajoy’

Since those days, Rajoy has survived two election defeats at party leader, an EU rescue and even a helicopter crash. But the specter of corruption was creeping closer.

In 2013, El Pais newspaper published ledgers from a secret party slush fund that showed regular payments to “M. Rajoy.” El Mundo printed text messages in which the prime minister promised to do whatever he could to help former party treasurer Luis Barcenas, who was caught up in the corruption probe. Rajoy denied any wrongdoing.

In 2014 he apologized in parliament for what he recognized then was an “accumulation of scandals.” His colleagues from the Aznar government helped fuel the perception of a party gone rotten.

Former Finance Minister Rodrigo Rato was handed a jail term for the misuse of corporate credit cards while leading Bankia SA to the brink of a collapse that forced the government to seek 41 billion euros ($48 billion) in European bailout funds. Aznar’s former Labor Minister Eduardo Zaplana was arrested this month on money laundering and bribery charges. His family has said he’s done nothing wrong.
Minority Government

Stripped of his majority in 2015, Rajoy refused to step aside in favor of a less divisive candidate, and eventually reclaimed power after a 10-month standoff and a repeat election, albeit at the head of a fragile minority government.

Any chance of a broader resurgence was cut short by former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont’s declaration of independence last October. While the break away attempt foundered, voters identified the Ciudadanos party as a more capable defender of national unity and the PP slipped behind in the polls.

Rajoy still managed to steer the delayed 2018 budget through parliament last week, apparently clearing a path to preside over two more years of economic growth.

When his luck changed, it did so quickly.
Swift End

The National Court handed down a string of dramatic sentences against former PP officials including Barcenas who was sent to jail for 33 years or his part PP racket -- and the judges said they didn’t believe Rajoy’s testimony in which he said he had no knowledge of the operation.

The ethics of the prime minister and his party were back in center stage. Sanchez filed his no-confidence motion. The corruption that had dogged Rajoy’s premiership finally brought about his downfall, though the Catalans took relish as they got to wield the knife.

“This shows that you can’t govern Spain against the will of the Catalans,” separatist lawmaker Carles Campuzano told parliament. “We’re voting in favor of this motion to bring and end to the Mariano Rajoy era.”

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