Why is Spain’s right-wing PP accusing their own leader in Madrid of corruption?

Bitter political infighting has erupted at the top of Spain’s right-wing Partido Popular amid accusations of corruption and spying. The dispute has wedged a gap between its national leader and regional boss in Madrid as rumours of a leadership challenge swirl.

Spanish conservative People's Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado (L) and Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso have up to now enjoyed a good political relationship. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Another year, another Spanish political scandal.

There’s no one political party that has a monopoly on scandal in Spain, but when it comes to corruption and spying, right-wing party Partido Popular members (PP) are experts. Just four years ago corruption downed the last PP Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the lingering legal consequences have been rumbling on in the background throughout the parliament with the ‘Operation Kitchen’ investigation.

But now, just days after a poor result in the Castille and Leon regional elections that trapped PP leader Pablo Casado between minority government or coalition with far-right Vox, President of the Madrid region and rumoured national leadership challenger, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has publicly accused Casado of being involved in a campaign to discredit her.

It is alleged that PP top brass hired private detectives to see if Ayuso had intervened to award a €1.5 million COVID-19 face mask contract to an associate of her brother.

Speaking publicly, Ayuso denied any involvement and remarked that “although political life is full of unpleasantness, I never imagined that the leadership of my party would act in such a cruel and unfair way against me.”

Many view the move as a preemptive strike by Casado to extinguish a potential leadership challenge as his popularity further falls and Ayuso’s climbs following her landslide victory in Madrid last year. Tensions have bubbled since then, and rumours of a leadership challenge grew. 

Details of the face mask contract were unearthed last year when it emerged the contract bypassed the usual tender process, and PP officials say an internal investigation was launched after Ayuso failed to cooperate with the probe, but deny private detectives were used.

In response to Ayuso’s public attacks on Casado, party General Secretary Teodoro García Egea defended the leadership against what he termed “a campaign of attacks, slander and insults” and noted a disciplinary investigation, and perhaps even legal action, would be opened against her.

With PP’s last spying scandal still looming over the party, the party has been dragged into another. The party is no stranger to illegality and infighting, but this time it couldn’t even wait to be in government. 

What was a rumoured rift and potential leadership challenge now seems a certainty somewhere down the line, and expect the face mask contract scandal to get ugly. Just as they did by calling a snap election in Castille and León, it seems PP’s decision to preempt things may backfire on them.


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What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.