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A bitter convention for Spain’s Popular Party

Ruling conservatives cling to their do-nothing strategy despite evidence of decline at the polls

Madrid regional leader Cristina Cifuentes at the PP convention on Saturday.
Madrid regional leader Cristina Cifuentes at the PP convention on Saturday. Getty Images

The national convention in Seville that Spain’s governing Popular Party (PP) was planning for this past weekend was very different from the one that actually took place. Concerned by polls showing that its voters are switching to emerging center-right party Ciudadanos in large numbers, the conservatives had been planning to send out a strong message about security in a desperate bid to win back voters.

But these plans were thwarted by the release of former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont from jail in Germany, by the support for this move expressed by a member of the Angela Merkel administration, and by a scandal that continues to engulf Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes.

A poll shows that 84% of Spaniards feel that Prime Minister Rajoy’s time is over

The PP is showing unequivocal signs of being unable to deal with the decline reflected in all the polls. It might be argued that the release of the Catalan ex-premier was an unpredictable event that should not hurt the government itself, even if it may be raising doubts about the Spanish judicial system and legal framework.

But leaving a solution to this crisis in the hands of the judiciary does not exempt the government from its responsibilities, nor does it avert a double-edged political risk: at home, where the crisis is eroding the executive, and abroad, where Spanish democracy is losing credibility.

In Seville, members of the executive did little more than show their anger at the German government. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said that there will be no official exchange of impressions between both governments, illustrating the consequences of lack of action.

To this must be added the shameful way in which the government has been handling the case of Cristina Cifuentes, who received a show of support despite the fact that the regional premier is under fire in connection with allegations of fraud and falsified documents pertaining to her master’s degree from a public university. Close ranks and turn on the fan: the PP has resorted to its old technique for dealing with alleged corruption by one of its own, illustrating its scant disposition to combat bad practices that are deplored by all Spaniards.

The party has always played with time as a way to deal with problems

The PP arrived in Seville with the goal of undermining Ciudadanos, and instead it has been forced to grudgingly accept support for a parliamentary investigative commission demanded by the latter. Even this had been something that the PP was unwilling to accept, just as it is not contemplating resignation by a defiant Cifuentes.

A new Metroscopia poll conducted for EL PAÍS shows that 84% of Spaniards feel that Rajoy’s time is over. This is a majority opinion even within his own electorate (63%). Driven by the lack of personal economic improvement despite the triumphant official messages, and the desire for a government that is willing to tackle crises decisively and regenerate public life, 57% of citizens support an agreement by the opposition parties in order to call fresh elections. Such an agreement at the Madrid scale would eject Cifuentes from the regional government. But the PP does not seem ready for a replacement before regional elections come around in 2019.

The party has always played with time as a way to deal with problems. And it continues to do so now, failing to understand that the times have changed, and that its own mistakes and lack of reflexes may not go unnoticed at the ballot box the way they used to.

English version  by Susana Urra.

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