Choose Edition
Choose Edition
Tamaño letra


An internal affair

The political consequences of the Madrid Arena tragedy are playing out behind closed doors

Ana Botella feels that her continuation in the post of Madrid mayor has “ballot-box legitimacy,” and there she has a point: she was on the same Popular Party (PP) ticket as her City Hall predecessor, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, chosen by 757,000 Madrid citizens — practically 50 percent of the vote — just over 18 months ago.

Although it was Ruiz-Gallardón who led the campaign before abandoning the mayor’s office to join Mariano Rajoy’s national government, it is true to say that any of the PP’s councilors in Madrid can lay claim to this electoral legitimacy, given the closed-list system that is still used in this country.

In practice, this system causes political problems to be dealt with as internal matters for the party concerned, with no explanations offered to the public.

It is in this context that Botella is now cutting off heads within her team without explaining the reasons behind the changes. She limits herself to simply measuring the impact these moves may have within her immediate circle of party power, the result of which will determine her political future.

The deaths of five young women amid the violation of all basic security rules two months ago at Madrid Arena have now led to the resignations of two officials: Pedro Calvo, who was in charge of the City Hall company that rented out the venue for the tragic Halloween party (although he remains as a councilor), and Miguel Ángel Villanueva, who stepped down as deputy mayor this week. Even so, citizens are given no indication of whether this is due to the fact that these individuals are responsible for the disaster, or if, in fact, they are simply scapegoats being used by the mayor to elude her share of responsibility. All of this is taking place after the staging of an “investigative commission” that was a complete sham, hidebound by the conditions of the ruling PP.

The political leadership of Spain’s capital is undergoing a period of instability. This week’s cabinet reshuffle has produced the third City Hall team in the past two years. With the resignation of the deputy mayor, the original lineup formed by Ruiz-Gallardón has now been largely dismantled in a city that is still one of the country’s most indebted.

At odds with regional premier On top of this, the mayor’s office under Botella is still involved in a tense power struggle with Madrid regional premier Ignacio González — himself driving forward a privatization plan for public healthcare that has set sector professionals on the warpath and has been poorly explained to the people, aside from generic statements about cost reduction. This public confrontation between the capital’s two administrations replicates the pitched battle waged for years by Ruiz-Gallardón and González’s predecessor, Esperanza Aguirre.

The Madrid bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games is the only thing that could possibly be described as an active City Hall project. The overall climate in one of its strongest electoral bastions is a disconcerting one for the PP.

To be sure, Madrid is feeling the effects of the Rajoy government’s austerity policies like anywhere else in the country. But the grim situation is exacerbated by the performance of the city’s authorities.