Anger over a long list of corruption scandals implicating bankers, politicians and even members of the royal family is on the rise in recession-hit Spain, putting the spotlight on the failure of the country’s democracy to tackle the issue.
At demonstrations against government austerity measures, chants against alleged shady deals by Spain’s elite are common.
About 200 to 300 elected officials out of more than 50,000 in the country are currently implicated in corruption cases in regions governed both by both the left and the right, said Jesus Lizcano, the head of the Spanish branch of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.
“While small, it is a significant percentage and is a bit alarming and calls for an urgent response on the part of political parties,” he said.
With taxpayers reeling under austerity measures and a record unemployment rate of 26 percent, many feel that “the political class is not able to resolve the economic crisis, that it is useless, and that they protect each other,” said Anton Losada, a political science professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela
The latest corruption scandal to make headlines involves Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s center-right Popular Party, whose popularity has plunged since it won a November 2011 election in a landslide.
Daily newspaper El Mundo reported on Jan. 18 that former Popular Party treasurer Luis Barcenas distributed envelopes containing thousands of euros to party officials. It said the money came from commissions collected from construction firms, insurance companies and anonymous donors.
Top party officials have strongly denied any involvement in the affair and have kept their distance from Barcenas, who reportedly had up to 22 million euros (US$29 million) in Swiss bank accounts until 2009.
Corruption scandals have even hurt the popularity of Spanish King Juan Carlos I after one implicated a member of his family.
His son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, was accused last year of embezzling public money paid by regional governments to a charitable organization based in Mallorca which he chaired.
“During the past three weeks, people have been very, very, very angry, there has been a growing social alarm and it is very important that politicians take this issue seriously,” Lizcano said.
The corruption scandals have shaken Spaniards’ faith in politicians nearly four decades after the death of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 paved the way for the country’s return to democracy.
Three in four Spaniards think political corruption is rising and that politicians get better treatment in the courts than regular citizens, a poll published in newspaper ABC on Jan. 20 showed.