Spain's Rajoy Puts PP's Fortunes at Risk Ignoring Costs of Graft

  • Acting Prime Minister plans to run if new elections held
  • Spanish lawmakers face May 2 deadline to form government

Mariano Rajoy’s insistence on making a new bid for a second term as prime minister may leave his People’s Party facing its worst result in more than a quarter of a century if Spain is forced to repeat its general election.

The PP would win 26.4 percent of the votes, the lowest share in a general election since 1989 and two percentage points less than it won on Dec. 20, according to a Gesop poll for El Periodico newspaper published Thursday. More than one third of PP voters don’t think Rajoy should be their candidate in a new election, according to another survey by the Metroscopia polling organization.

Spain may hold new elections on June 26 if its new parliament can’t agree on the political pacts needed to form a government after the vote in December robbed the PP of its absolute majority. The PP risks a backlash if it can’t demonstrate it wants to purge itself of corruption and renew its leadership, said Isabel Benjumea, who has been visiting party activists during the last year as head of Floridablanca, a pro-market think tank.

“If there are fresh elections and the People’s Party pretends nothing has happened by presenting the same candidates and manifesto, it’s scientifically impossible to improve the result,” said Benjumea. “The PP has to renew itself so it can show it got the message from Spaniards.”

No Intention

Rajoy told COPE radio station on March 7 that he had no intention of standing down and that no one in his party had asked him to. “Corruption is what has hurt us the most, but we have already taken a lot of measures,” he told broadcaster Antena 3 in February.

Spanish courts are dealing with more than two dozen alleged graft probes involving the party at local and national levels. Spaniards have listed corruption as their second-biggest concern after unemployment since Nov. 2013, according to a monthly survey conducted by state-run pollster CIS.

Among the most prominent scandals, a former PP president of the Balearic Islands region is standing trial in Mallorca along with King’s Felipe VI’s sister Cristina and her husband in a probe into alleged fraud at a non-profit organization.

All have professed their innocence in the case. A former party treasurer faces trial in a graft probe and the PP was forced to dissolve its local organization in Valencia, a former stronghold, amid allegations of illegal financing.

“PP voters are demoralized, so if there were new elections I find it hard to see that a mere change of candidate would provide a solution,” said Narciso Michavila, chairman of the polling company GAD3, in a telephone interview. “The PP may need to do something more profound because the loss of three million votes wasn’t a short-term swing but a structural breaking point.”

New Government

Spanish lawmakers face a May 2 deadline to back a new government and avoid new elections.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez and Albert Rivera, head of the pro-market Ciudadanos party have signed a pact that could be base for a government program.

The PP and anti-austerity party Podemos voted down Sanchez’s attempt to form a government backed by Ciudadanos earlier this month. Even so, Sanchez is betting that voters will reward his efforts to break Spain’s political deadlock at Rajoy’s expense.

If new elections were held, the PP would win as many as 110 out the 350-seat Spanish lower chamber compared with 123 seats in elections in December, according to Gesop’s survey of 1,000 people conducted between March 5 and March 8.

A party needs to have at least 117 seats in parliament to retain its power to block reforms to Spain’s constitution. Rivera of Ciudadanos is on course to win as many as 62 seats compared with 40 seats in December, according to the Gesop poll.

Socialists led by Pedro Sanchez, who failed to reach enough support in two confidence votes last week would get as many as 91 seats compared with 90 currently, according to Gesop. Anti-austerity party Podemos would obtain 61 seats compared with 69. Metroscopia is set publish his monthly electoral poll Sunday and Monday in El Pais newspaper.

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