What should have been expected? That Mariano Rajoy would appear in sackcloth, prostrate himself in front of the Spanish parliament, admit to all the sins of which he had been accused and beg for mercy? Or, in less tragic manner, would have treated the whole affair with lighthearted comedy? " 'El Mundo' got me bang to rights. It's a fair cop but Spanish society is to blame."
Spanish society, a fair proportion of it, had already cleared off to the beaches. Choosing the first of August may not have been accidental. Or perhaps it was just a further example of Rajoy tardiness. He doesn't do things in a hurry. Like going before parliament and clearing up any slight confusion there might be regarding his having allegedly trousered whole loads of black money over a number of years.
Rajoy, normally to be found as far away as it is physically possible for a democratically elected leader to be from any form of interrogation or questioning, had been reticent in having to deal with the inconvenience of addressing some bloody annoying opposition politicians who were going to stage a vote of censure if he didn't come and have a word. Unsurprisingly, once he had finally been persuaded not to carry on hiding in the cupboard, which is what he normally does, he came out in full fighting mode. Clearly, the delay in his making an appearance was so that he could work on his performance. "More aggression, Mariano. Blame the press. Blame Rubalcaba for damaging the reputation of Spain. What was that, Mariano? Yes, there is still a reputation that can be damaged. Just about. If you must, give the baying hordes a little bit. Say you're sorry for having trusted a criminal. That'll be enough."
Uncle Alfredo, along with the other baying hordes, would have known full well that Mariano wasn't going to make a resignation speech and call for an election. And there will be plenty who will argue that there was no basis for him to have to resign. It isn't as if he has been found guilty of anything. Which is true, but then what is the truth?
What we have to ask ourselves, and we are none the wiser after Rajoy's ranting, is whether "El Mundo" and "El País" were taken in by the Bárcenas papers, whether Bárcenas has engaged in some elaborate fabrication and whether, in the case in particular of "El Mundo", the paper had sought to manipulate and distort Bárcenas's documents in an attempt to bring Rajoy down and so create political instability.
Some parts of Spanish society which have been paying any attention and not preferring to lower their ears and eyes under warm seas in the Mediterranean will believe that Bárcenas has indeed made the whole thing up and has attempted to hang an innocent man. Other parts, and they are in a majority, won't know what to think or what to believe other than that the accusations implicit in the Bárcenas papers are symptomatic of the rotten core of Spanish politics.
Rajoy's admission that he made a mistake in trusting Bárcenas was akin to the willingness to make a concession in a negotiation. But Rubalcaba was right to press him on the text messages which showed him offering support to Bárcenas until earlier this year. He was only implicated at the time, argued Rajoy, not condemned. Even if they were just messages born of friendship, they raise questions as to Rajoy's judgement. And, admission or concession, they do not remove the doubts that will linger.
Rajoy's previous evasion was not just typical of him as a person, it was typical of a political system that cannot bear scrutiny. His feistiness in parliament was as much a show of personal slight having been taken as it was of indignation that he should even have to answer questions. He should, or so you would have thought in a supposedly democratic society, have made statements far earlier. But he didn't. And now, despite his admission of a mistake, he has failed to convince. A combination of his own uncommunicativeness, his tardiness and a political system that puts far too low a premium on accountability and ethics draws many to conclusions at variance with what, finally, he told parliament.
More could of course emerge. Bárcenas has only one thing in mind. Revenge. He has been hung out to dry and he doesn't care who he takes down with him. But even were more to emerge, who would know what to believe other than that the whole affair stinks of the stench of an unaccountable political system.
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