The president of the Community of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, at the National Convention of the Popular Party, on April 8, 2018 in Seville
A year of a key election and at the head of a minority government, the Popular Party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy is being torpedoed by a new scandal and the competition of Ciudadanos, the emerging force of the Spanish center-right.
The press spared no criticism on Monday at the conclave that the conservative training held over the weekend in Seville. „Lost occasion for the PP“, titled the editorial of the newspaper El Mundo. „Bitter convention“, El País abounded.
The aim of the meeting was to launch the campaign for municipal and regional elections in May 2019. And, in passing, make collective catharsis after the problems of recent months: the rise of Citizens, the Catalan crisis and the blocking of budgets, that the government of the PP continues without taking ahead for lack of parliamentary supports.
However, the convention was overshadowed by the scandal surrounding the regional president of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, accused of fraudulently obtaining a university degree, and the underlying problem of the Catalan crisis.
Rajoy has entrusted much of the management of this crisis to the legal action, a strategy that suffered a setback when on Friday the German justice released the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on bail.
On the independence leader weigh in Spain charges of embezzlement and rebellion, an accusation the latter dismissed by the German judge.
„If you play the right, then it turns out that the right is interpretable.“ It has been a great setback for Rajoy, because the only thing that seemed to work for him has failed, „Fernando Vallespín, professor of Political Sciences at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
– The problem Cifuentes –
In his closing speech on Sunday before his party, Rajoy avoided mentioning the Cifuentes case, omnipresent at the weekend.
The one that was presented as the renovator of a Madrid-based PP marked by serious corruption scandals in recent years is accused of fraudulently obtaining an autonomous master’s degree at the Rey Juan Carlos public university.
Ciudadanos, his legislative partner in the region, called on Monday for his resignation, and the prosecution is investigating whether there was a crime of falsification in an official document.
Against the current flood of criticism of recent days, Cifuentes won an ovation of more than a minute in one of the symposia in Seville.
„A book error,“ according to Vallespín, who argues that the Cifuentes case will pass bill to the PP in Madrid, an important nursery for conservatives: „people will remember when they go to vote.“
– Attacking Citizens, a double-edged sword –
While the PP is deflating, Citizens, currently the fourth political force in the Spanish Parliament, is going well in the polls.
This Sunday, a poll by the Metroscopia Institute for the newspaper El País gave it a 28% intention to vote: eight points ahead of the PP, nine over the Socialists and ten over the radical left of Podemos.
Rajoy took advantage of the convention of the PP to attack Citizens, a party of „inexperienced language“ that „promise everything, free, without limits, without commitment, and without responsibility“.
Antonio Barroso, deputy director of analysis of the institute Teneo, and based in London, believes that the attacks on Citizens will be precisely one of the axes of the PP campaign in the coming months.
However, he warns that it will be „complicated, because they depend on them to govern in several places,“ both nationally and in some regions, including Madrid, Castilla y León (north) or Murcia (southeast).
„It’s the typical attitude of those who are afraid,“ adds Vallespín, on the strategy of attacking Ciudadanos.
But the biggest flight of votes, adds Barroso, will come from the Catalan question.
The PP is blaming the intervention of the autonomy of Catalonia since the failed attempt at secession, at the end of October. Meanwhile, Ciudadanos is the first political force in that region and seems to reap in all of Spain the result of its firm opposition to the independence movement.
„While talking about Catalonia, Ciudadanos has an important platform“, while the PP „the problem is not giving revenue“, summarizes Antonio Barroso.
Both he and Vallespin believe however that Rajoy will wait for the 2019 elections to eventually advance the general elections and shorten a term that expires in June 2020.