During the last few days, a crisis has explosively broken out in the Partido Popular, the main conservative opposition party to the Socialist government in Spain.
What until now was an internal and tacit struggle for the leadership of the Partido Popular, has turned into an open war between Pablo Casado, current national leader of the center-right force, and Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who holds the presidency of the Community of Madrid and had the intention of being the regional leader of the party in Madrid, and who could now run to replace Casado as national leader of the political formation.
The crisis has been triggered by the so-called “Ayusogate,” an alleged corruption scandal involving Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of which she has been accused by the PP National Directorate itself, probably with the intention of deactivating her meteoric rise within the ranks of the party.
An investigation published on February 16 by the El Confidencial newspaper revealed that high-ranking officials of the Partido Popular of Pablo Casado’s entourage would have contacted private detective agencies to investigate Isabel Díaz Ayuso, her allies, and her own family. This was all done in search of some dirty laundry with which to deactivate her political career.
As a result of these alleged investigations, the Partido Popular accused — without any evidence for the time being — Isabel Díaz Ayuso of having benefited her brother with the collection of a juicy commission of 280,000 euros for the intermediation in a public contract for the purchase of sanitary material worth 1.5 million euros.
The day after this accusation, Isabel Díaz Ayuso came out to defend her honesty and denounce the “cruel, unfair and senseless” way in which her own party has maneuvered against her for what she considers political interests of power.
Although on February 16 the PP “categorically” denied the espionage and announced that it would “take the appropriate judicial measures” in face of the accusations, the director of an investigative agency confirmed that people from the environment of the Partido Popular had tried to hire its services, thus confirming the complaints of Isabel Díaz Ayuso.
Moreover, in a rapid succession of events, Ángel Carromero, one of the leaders close to the party leadership accused of coordinating the alleged espionage, resigned on February 17 after being singled out by Ayuso’s entourage.
The latest reaction of the PP National Directorate, according to the El Español, has been to open a file against Isabel Díaz Ayuso for her accusations of espionage and they do not rule out expelling her from the party.
Background and consequences of the crisis in the Partido Popular
The political storm unleashed in the Partido Popular in the last 3 days has triggered multiple reactions inside and outside the center-right party, but they are framed in a convulsive process of restructuring of conservative political forces that has been taking place for years, especially after the irruption of Vox, a political formation that was born as a split of the Partido Popular.
In recent years, many have accused the Partido Popular of having betrayed conservative principles, and in its eagerness to appear moderate and monopolize political centrism, of having ended up embracing socialist theses.
Faced with the PP’s apparent abandonment of conservative and liberal ideals, Vox was founded in 2013 to occupy the right-wing space that, according to them, the PP had left orphaned. After a first few years of modest to poor electoral results, 2018 saw the media explosion of this new party.
Despite Vox being branded as radical right or populist right by its detractors — including the PP — its growth in affiliates, votes and autonomous, national and European representatives has not stopped growing, to the detriment of a Partido Popular that lost the government of Spain in June 2018 after a motion of censure in favor of the Socialist Party.
In July 2018 Pablo Casado became president of the Partido Popular and his stance has been to increasingly distance himself from Vox, for the sake of occupying the center space, for which he has been accused of ending up favoring the left. In turn, Pablo Casado’s PP blames Vox for the triumph of the left for having fragmented the right.
During these years in which the Spanish right has been reconfiguring itself, Pablo Casado’s leadership capacity to represent and defend right-wing ideas has been called into question, both by the conservative media and by some members of his own party.
Although tacitly, Isabel Díaz Ayuso has been becoming one of the right-wing political figures that threaten to overshadow the leadership of Pablo Casado. Not only because of her brilliant electoral victories in Madrid, but also for positioning herself against leftist ideas in a much less ambiguous way than the president of her party.
Another clear case of opposition from within the party to Casado’s stance – and perhaps the most resounding one – has been that of the Partido Popular congresswoman, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, who in 2020 was dismissed from her position as spokesperson in the Congress of the Popular Parliamentary Group, just after having publicly shown herself increasingly critical of the president of the party.
After the explosion of the confrontation between Pablo Casado and Isabel Díaz Ayuso, and given the apparent similarity of their cases, all eyes have turned to Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, who today has openly called for “the resignation of Pablo Casado as president of the Partido Popular and the urgent convening of a Congress to elect a new leadership”.
It is difficult to venture the consequences of the political earthquake that is taking place in Spain, but it seems clear that the next few days will be crucial for the process of restructuring and reorganizing the right wing in Spain.