The first day of August is popularly known in Spain as Operación Salida (Operation Exit). But those expecting the country’s embattled Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to join the millions of Spaniards making their annual mass exodus from the towns and cities and quit – in a political sense – were left sorely disappointed.
Instead, in Mr Rajoy’s long-awaited first parliamentary appearance over a scandal involving an alleged Partido Popular [PP] slush fund, he firmly rejected calls for early elections, and for his resignation.
It has been seven months since Mr Rajoy and other senior PP figures were linked to the fund, with illegal monthly cash payments of between €5,000 and €15,000 allegedly made to the PM. The payments, from big businesses, appeared in a series of ledgers written by Luis Bárcenas, the former party treasurer, who is currently on remand over a fraud case.
Mr Rajoy is alleged to have received €250,000, a risible amount compared to the €47m found in one of Mr Bárcenas’s Swiss bank accounts, but still illegal: Spain’s government ministers cannot receive any income other than their state-paid wages.
However, Mr Rajoy was not cowed. He said he had made a single mistake – trusting Mr Bárcenas – but left no doubt he and his party would not be dislodged. “You did not want explanations, just for me to declare myself guilty,” Mr Rajoy said. “But I am not. I will not declare myself to be guilty because I have no evidence that my party was financed illegally.”
Three more senior PP members, including Mr Rajoy’s deputy, María Dolores de Cospedal, are due to testify in mid-August. Although Mr Rajoy’s and his party’s image is increasingly tarnished, with his huge parliamentary majority and elections not scheduled until 2015, he looks set to remain in power.