OPINION: Reflections on Corruption and Political Regeneration in Spain

  • by Guillermo Medina (madrid)
  • Inter Press Service

The systemic nature of corruption – recognised by most analysts but denied by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-wing People's Party (PP) – is coinciding exasperatingly with the impoverishment of most of society and the enrichment of a few of its members, leading to a rejection of current politics and institutions that verges on social rebellion.

In the 2011 municipal elections, 39 percent of candidates under investigation for corruption throughout Spain were re-elected, according to a report by the Politico analytical group. Some notoriously corrupt officials even claimed that the "favourable judgment of the electorate" was a kind of absolution.3

But indifference towards corruption was transformed into intolerance when the crisis arrived and scandals began to emerge.

In October 2004, a poll by the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) found that only 0.6 percent of respondents mentioned corruption among their main concerns; by October 2014, according to the same source, 42.3 percent were naming it as their second-highest concern.

Citizens have now made a direct connection between corruption and the crisis, profligacy, unemployment, impoverishment, inequality and a political style. Irritated and provoked by their observation of the obscene ostentation and impunity of the corrupt, many have reached the conclusion that it will not be possible to eradicate corruption without profound change.

In the view of many Spanish citizens, corruption has its origins in a model of party politics that reduces democracy to a mere mechanism for deciding – every four years – which party will occupy the seats of power, with no substantial change for the people.

The meteoric rise of Podemos ("We Can"), the movement and political party proposing radical change, is therefore not surprising. Founded in January this year, Podemos secured 25 percent of voter intentions in a survey published on Dec. 7 by the newspaper ‘El País'.

Due to deficiencies in the electoral law and certain flaws in their original make-up, the other parties have thwarted the wishes of the electorate and have created a crisis of representation.

Frequently, lax laws, long criminal proceedings, short statutes of limitations and the most varied tricks of judicial ingenuity conspire to grant impunity to conduct that is harmful to the common interest and causes public scandals.

No wonder Carlos Lesmes, president of the General Council of the Judiciary, said recently: "We have a criminal system devised to penalise the petty thief, but not the large fraudster; it does not work in cases such as we are seeing now, in which there is so much corruption."

People today are aware of the relationship between politics and corruption. One of the most pernicious effects of this omnipresent phenomenon is that it monopolises and conditions political debate, weakening institutions like Congress and the government itself, which should be focusing their attention on solving the country's crucial problems.

Politics are deadlocked. Accords have become unviable because the country is divided by two contrary and reactive forces, between those who are enraged at the "caste" and are seeking a radical alternative, and those who are frightened by what they rightly consider to be a threat to their interests and prioritise attacking their rivals, while trying to convince us that they are fighting corruption.

At this point, the corruption and disrepute of the political class has resulted not only in the growth of Podemos, but is perceived as a curse even by the business community, which sees it as a hindrance to economic recovery.

A survey among the 500 participants at the recent National Congress of Family Business awarded only 1.08 out of 9 points to the political situation. Last year the result was 1.66 out of 9.

Democracy does not create corrupt people, but corrupt people end up corrupting democracy, and then corruption becomes a structural, systemic problem. Multiple abscesses turn into gangrene and after that, ending corruption means cleansing the entire system.

Fighting corruption is only possible in the broader context of political and institutional regeneration. So it seems to those who demand regeneration, and because they feel that the established parties are lacking in political will, they state their intention to vote for Podemos.

The anti-corruption measures proposed so far by the government are uninspiring and lack depth because they do not make the necessary connection between corruption and political regeneration. The opposition Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) goes further than the PP although its proposals are also inadequate and somewhat vague.

It is impossible to fight corruption effectively without reforming the bipartisan model, introducing internal democracy and carrying out a thorough reform of the system of justice to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, as judges and magistrates are demanding.

Political corruption goes hand-in-hand with the exercise of power, whether in Andalusia (PSOE), Catalonia (Convergence and Union), Valencia (PP) or Spain as a whole (PP). Therefore the existence of regulatory institutions, a real separation of powers, and free and independent media are essential for combating it.

Even if it is accepted that ending poverty and unemployment is more important than regeneration, I do not see how the former can be achieved without the latter.

The idea that the economic crisis has generated a political crisis is widespread, but the reverse is equally true, so we are up against the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

For a time, the Spanish government has tried to face the economic crisis, leaving aside the political crisis, with dire consequences. Unfortunately the Prime Minister does not take this view and believes instead that the long-heralded economic recovery will be the panacea for all ills. The results are clear for all to see. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS - Inter Press Service. 

© Inter Press Service (2014) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service