“Thank you for the masks!”
So cheered thousands of protestors outside the headquarters of Spain’s centre-right Partido Popular (PP) in Madrid on February 20th. The crowd that reached approximately 4,000 people had gathered over the course of the Sunday morning to show their support for the beleaguered Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP), regional president of Madrid, and their dissatisfaction with the party’s national leadership.
Ayuso’s sympathisers included both her own constituents and voters for the national-conservative party VOX.
They called for the resignation of both PP President Pablo Casado and Secretary General Teodoro Garciá Egea.
The controversy stems from an article published by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on February 17th that showed the PP to have been paying private detectives to investigate Díaz Ayuso and her brother Tomás.
The investigation centred around the Madrid government’s purchase of 250,000 masks for €1,512,000 during the first wave of the pandemic from a company called Priviet Sportive SL., using a fast-track procedure, in place to deal with emergencies, that overrides the usual emission of a tender by public authorities. The sole administrator of this company, Daniel Alcázar, is family friend of Ayuso’s, and in particular of her brother, Tomás, who was subcontracted by the company.
The PP’s secretary general, Teodoro García Egea, arranged a meeting between the party’s leadership and Ayuso to discuss the issue on the 21st of October 2021. In November, it seems the party hired a detective company to try and find something incriminating to use against Ayuso. Specifically, detectives were charged with investigating her brother’s VAT declarations and his personal accounts. Nothing incriminating surfaced, but news of the investigation reached Ayuso, who asked her party for an explanation. She has since publicly admitted that her brother was paid €55,000 by a company with whom the government of Madrid did business, denying any supposed “kick-back” or impropriety.
The day following the publication of the article, Casado was interviewed on the radio station COPE. He said Ayuso needed to explain what he claimed were approximately €286,000 in unethical commissions to her brother for securing medical masks. The party had also opened the process to sanction Ayuso for non-exemplary behaviour.
Ayuso has maintained her own innocence and accused her party of spying.
El Debate reports that opposition parties from the Left had previously brought two legal actions against Ayuso for showing favouritism in the regional government’s contracts, but they were all dismissed. A legal analysis, conducted by the newspaper, of contracts and payments to Tomás Días Ayuso for securing masks was legal and ethical.
Since the Sunday protest, other PP regional presidents have been calling for serious actions by party leadership. They demand summoning an emergency national congress and forcing the resignation of Casado.
Polls are predicting that the PP could lose as much as 25% of its votes to VOX due to its own internal strife.
The PP has rescinded its threat of sanctions against Ayuso. El Mundo has also reported that in a meeting between Ayuso and Casado on February 18th, the PP president had attempted to negotiate a retraction of the sanctions in exchange for a public statement exonerating the party of espionage, but she refused to back down.
Tension between Ayuso and national party leaders has existed for months. Though Ayuso is immensely popular with voters, particularly due to her management of COVD-19 crisis, she has been butting heads with party leadership over her request for an anticipated regional party congress in which she would run for regional party leader. As Sunday’s demonstrators showed, she is far more popular with voters than her party’s current leadership.