MAJOR corruption swoops leading to a string of arrests among the PP party from local council to national government level have sorely hampered negotiations between acting president Mariano Rajoy and other political outfits.
An historic scourge on the right-wing leaders, cases of bribery and backhanders under investigation were already legion before two other rackets were uncovered within days of each other, just a month after Spain's most hung general elections in democratic history.
Leader of centre-liberal independent party Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, had offered himself as a go-between to resolve the deadlock between the PP and its main rival, the socialists or PSOE – but he now says doing so will be nearly impossible following the latest scandals.
Government agencies Imelsa, which handles financial and business promotion and activities, and Acuamed, the hydraulic management firm for the Mediterranean basin water supply, have both come under scrutiny this week amid suspicions of public works prices being deliberately inflated to allow politicians and companies to split and pocket the difference, bribes taken in exchange for lucrative civil engineering and services contracts, and millions of euros in underground cash-in-hand dealing.
In the Valencia region, 24 PP politicians were arrested, of whom 14 have been released pending further inquiries; ex-agriculture minister and now MEP Miguel Arias Cañete is thought to be embroiled in the Acuamed case, and former economy minister and head of State-owned building society Bankia, Rodrigo Rato, has added yet another investigation to his list which already includes wilful mismanagement of funds whilst heading up the bank, and multi-million tax evasion.
Just a week ago, the three-year-long case involving former PP senator and treasurer Luis Bárcenas' backhander slush-fund took on a new twist when his entire ex-party was warned it could be called up to testify and may be charged.
Rajoy stressed before the elections that he aimed to stamp out corruption, and claimed opposition parties were far from clean in that respect – but the balance of legal action and rackets unearthed has swung sharply and publicly towards the PP in recent years, especially in the past few days.
Other parties have been swift to denounce the PP, with the PSOE saying corruption goes to the bone with the right-wing outfit and stating categorically that it would never be pressured into supporting 'Spain's most corrupt party'.
Left-wing independents Podemos, now the third-strongest political power, says the PP had now place in a renewed government.
Now, Rivera says brokering a deal with the PP and PSOE is likely to be extremely hard.
“Rajoy is going to find it difficult – he's been leading the PP for many years, he's embroiled in the Bárcenas case, and his party will be called to the dock very soon; it's going to be very hard for Rajoy to deal with a battle of this nature against corruption, and harder still for him to have enough authority to do so,” Rivera told presenters during a recent radio interview.
“Nobody believes any more that, as Rajoy has kept insisting, Spain will sink if he is not at the helm.”
The Ciudadanos leader says if talks are to take place involving the PP, stringent measures to wipe out corruption are likely to be forced upon the party.
Examples include scrapping State reprievals for politicians found guilty, and entire parties being forced to take responsibility for members' criminal activities rather than publicly cutting ties with them and divorcing themselves from the issue.
Despite Rajoy's absence of authority over corruption involving his party members, and his hitherto refusal to be held accountable for financial crimes committed in the name of the PP, the acting president doggedly rejects any suggestion of his stepping aside for another candidate to take his place.
He has always been adamant that he would be PP leader come what may.
Meanwhile, negotiations between Podemos and the PSOE have stalled, with the former wanting the latter to get moving and the latter hesitating until after the first round of in-house elections.
“If [PSOE leader Pedro] Sánchez was willing, we could all have a new government formed within a matter of days,” complains Podemos' leader Pablo Iglesias.
Sánchez says it is 'only fair' Rajoy gets first chance to be invested as president, as his party won the most seats, although Rajoy has told King Felipe VI he will not attend the voting as he 'does not have enough support as yet' from other parties.