People’s Party: fighting to keep right-wing hegemony in Spain through the Catalan crisis
With Mariano Rajoy gone, new party head Pablo Casado tries to put down growing rivalry by hardening approach to independence movement
After decades of undisputed hegemony among conservative voters in Spain, the People’s Party (PP) is fighting to put down growing right-wing rivalry ahead of a crucial general election, by doubling down on its hardline approach to Catalan independence.
On April 28, PP will head to the polls after one of its worst years since the foundations of the party were laid in 1977 by a former minister of dictator Francisco Franco.
Former Spanish president Mariano Rajoy resigned as the party head in July 2018, shortly after being ousted in a no-confidence vote. After surviving the financial crisis and Catalonia’s push for independence, it was a corruption scandal that dealt the final blow to his time in office.
The conservative party was convicted for benefitting from a bribery scheme in the so-called Gürtel case, and a long-fragmented opposition united to replace Rajoy and PP with a Socialist government led by Pedro Sánchez.
Rajoy quit politics, and the leadership vacuum was filled by a young hardliner named Pablo Casado.
"The enemies of Spain, terrorists and coup d’etat perpetrators, are the allies [of Spanish president Pedro Sánchez]"
Pablo Casado · People's Party leader
As the head of the opposition, Casado saw the party’s approval ratings drop as the Socialists began to soar in polls. Additionally, Ciutadans (Cs) and far-right Vox gained popularity by overtaking PP on their tough approach to the Catalan crisis, a movement which had seen a referendum and a declaration of independence in 2017, all despite opposition from Spanish courts.
Casado’s strategy: attacking Sánchez through Catalan pro-indendence parties, which helped his Socialist government come to power.
"Pedro Sánchez has crossed red lines that had never before been crossed in Spanish politics or in any western democracy,” Casado said at a political rally in Barcelona. “The enemies of Spain, terrorists and coup d’etat perpetrators, are his allies.”
Recipe for Catalonia: criminal reform and direct rule
With 9 Catalan leaders in prison facing trial under rebellion charges, Casado wants to prohibit presidential pardons for such offences, as he has repeatedly warned against the possibility of Sánchez letting them go free. He also wants to make unauthorized referendums a criminal offence.
PP also wants to suspend self-rule in Catalonia and impose direct control from Madrid—the same exceptional measure used by Rajoy during the peak of the Catalan crisis. This time, though, Casado promises to make it last longer in order to target public media, Catalonia’s own police force, and schools.
Bleak electoral prospects, according to polls
According to recent surveys, the prospects of PP for the April 28 election are bleak. His party will most certainly be dethroned by the Socialists as Spain’s largest. And it could lose half its seats in Congress to other right-wing parties. In Catalonia, PP could become marginal and have no seats at all. Yet, Casado could still become Spain’s next president, if right-wing parties win a majority of seats in Congress.