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A grotesque spectacle

Valencian leader's self-proclaimed candidacy is an affront to his party and to democratic culture

Two days after the prosecutor called for court proceedings against the Valencian regional premier Francisco Camps, the Popular Party (PP) official quickly proclaimed his candidacy for the upcoming regional elections. His move is not only a challenge to the PP's national leadership, which now finds itself in the position of having to ratify his designation; it is also an act of defiance toward the courts, which he has so far attempted to oppose with every sort of ruse, to avoid paying for the crime of which he is accused.

Slowly but inexorably, however, the courts have cornered the Valencian politico, who did not merely accept as a gift "four neckties," in the words of Esteban González Pons (now the party's spokesman and formerly a close collaborator of the Valencian premier). The prosecutor's office is demanding for Camps a 41,250-euro fine for accepting gifts to the value of 14,021 euros from several companies involved in the Gürtel corruption network, to which his administration gave lucrative contracts. Besides which, the regional High Court of Valencia has found evidence of irregular party financing, which is still under investigation.

PP leader Mariano Rajoy's strategy of leaving problems to rot until they fall of their own weight- as he did, for example, in the case of the former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who eventually stepped down owing to his involvement in Gürtel- has not worked with Camps.

Clinging to power and to his party's favorable electoral expectations in the Valencia region, his attitude has caused malaise among the PP national leadership - which, however, seems prepared, though reluctantly, to ratify his candidacy if only to avoid confrontation with a well-entrenched politician who may be in a position to demand payment for services rendered.

The result is a grotesque spectacle on two sides. The PP, which has well-founded aspirations to win the upcoming local and regional ballots, and later to unsaddle Prime Minister Zapatero in the next general election, may be perceived more than ever as the party of corruption, incapable of removing its rotten apples and appearing to remain in connivance with them. The Gürtel corruption scandal will sooner or later adversely affect Rajoy if he supports the candidacy of Camps, whose moral authority as the head of the Valencian government will be further eroded when he stands accused in court.

But the worst of it all is the degradation of political life to which the PP's strategy is leading. Blinded by mere electoral calculation, the contempt that its leaders are showing for democratic institutions and, especially, for the judiciary when its actions are unfavorable to the party's interests, is extremely worrying. A scant service is being done to this country by the party that in 1996 won the general election on an anti-corruption platform.

The politicians of the PP are not the only ones who use a double standard. The Socialists, too, show a disturbing tendency to close ranks around party members who have problems with the law. But the level of effrontery in the PP is such that it threatens to jeopardize the health of Spanish democracy for many years to come.