The continuing corruption cases affecting the Popular Party (PP), and the leadership’s response to them, are creating a climate of discontent in traditional conservative bastions like Madrid and Valencia. “How do you explain this to people?” said one highly placed member of the Valencian PP bitterly.
Although the official party line mandates a show of unity around its leader, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a growing chorus of voices are demanding a complete overhaul of the party in order to weed out the corruption and contain the drain of votes that’s been evident in the last three elections: municipal, regional and national. “Corruption is killing us,” admitted Esperanza Aguirre at the Sunday press conference during which she announced her resignation as head of the party’s Madrid branch.
But the corruption cases keep surfacing, and appear to share a similar pattern tied to illegal financing. The Valencia region, a traditional PP stronghold, is a case in point. In the city of Valencia, nine of the 10 PP councillors in City Hall are being formally investigated by the courts, and former long-time mayor Rita Barberá has avoided offering any kind of public explanation.
This attitude has created “discouragement and embarrassment among a great many party members and elected officials,” admits Isabel Bonig, head of the PP’s Valencia branch. Although Bonig herself has been implicated in news reports about the financing of the 2011 campaign, she is asking for anti-corruption measures. “There are millions of people out there who voted for the PP and who need the party to take action.”
Bonig added that the time has come for “historical” party leaders to take a step back and make way for “a new generation” of people “from a wide variety of backgrounds, who will not rely on politics to make a living” and who will use their positions “to serve others, not to serve themselves.”
Meanwhile in Madrid, the other great PP stronghold, there are three major corruption investigations open simultaneously and 70 party members under judicial scrutiny – which is only half as many as in the Valencia region. The new regional premier of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, summed it up at a public event that she shared with Aguirre in January: “We were short on humbleness and long on corruption.”