The ruling Popular Party (PP) has not waited to hear back from officials who have been named in the latest corruption scandal to rock the country.
On Monday, the party unceremoniously kicked out every PP member detained in Operation Púnica, a bribes-for-contracts scandal affecting politicians, builders and public servants in Madrid, Valencia, León and Murcia.
The announcement came two hours after the Socialist Party made a similar decision regarding its own members who have been engulfed in a scandal that has yielded around 30 arrests, including a former high-ranking official at the Madrid regional government, Francisco Granados of the PP.
“This is unbearable, it can’t keep up like this,” said one PP leader, expressing a common sentiment these days. The party fears what this constant trickle of scandals will do to its re-election chances next year.
In just one week, the center-right PP has seen one of its veteran leaders, Rodrigo Rato (a former International Monetary Fund chief), fall from grace due to his involvement in the Caja Madrid opaque credit card scandal; another senior figure, Ángel Acebes, was due in court on Tuesday to explain his role in secret accounts that point to illegal party financing.
Neither Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy nor party secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal have made any public statements on the latest case. But some party members were dumbfounded to hear Rajoy recently refer to all the scandals as “a few things” that do not represent 46 million people.
Instead, party official Esteban González Pons read out a statement announcing that all members suspected of wrongdoing in Operation Púnica are having their membership revoked.
The ruling party is now seeking to forge an anti-corruption deal with the main opposition Socialists in a bid to send out a clear message to the citizens of Spain. But the Socialist Party has already said that it is not ready to negotiate with “the party of corruption.”
In contrast with most senior officials’ conspicuous absence from the spotlight, there was one PP leader who stepped out to discuss Operation Púnica and issue a public apology of sorts.
Esperanza Aguirre, former regional premier of Madrid and current leader of the party’s Madrid branch, called a press conference on Monday afternoon to apologize for having appointed Francisco Granados as her top aide while in office.
After saying sorry a dozen times, Aguirre expressed “a deep shame” at the arrest of her former deputy. She also said she accepted responsibility for her actions but was not considering resigning.
“He was a person who stood out, who had a brilliant education and career, who had worked in banking; he seemed like the right person, but I won’t and cannot avoid my responsibility in his appointment to positions within the party and the Madrid government,” said Aguirre, who is said to be considering running for mayor of Madrid in local elections next year.
Aguirre made a point of sounding a different tone from Rajoy, who merely said that “we have to let the justice system do its job.”
“Citizens are sick and tired of us politicians hiding behind the tired excuse of respect for justice and presumption of innocence,” she said. “What we need to do is to apologize. When the PP triumphed in the 1990s it was because it came across as a clean party; that was our main asset, our treasure. Unfortunately we have wasted that. We apologize for this and other cases of corruption.”
“Citizens need a party that will defend the PP’s liberal, conservative views, but above all they want a clean party, and we have to fight to be one again, immediately,” she concluded.