By Emma Pinedo, Christina Thykjaer and Belén Carreño
MADRID (Reuters) – Pablo Casado, leader of Spain’s centre-right opposition People’s Party, appeared to bid farewell to parliament on Wednesday amid rising speculation that he would bow to pressure to resign, deepening turmoil in the PP that could benefit the far right.
The crisis worsened last week after Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the popular regional PP leader of the capital Madrid, accused top party brass of secretly gathering alleged evidence of corruption against her and her entrepreneur brother over a contract to buy COVID face masks.
Ayuso has denied any wrongdoing, and the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the case.
Casado, 41, told lawmakers on Wednesday he hoped the government would continue to serve “the general public interest”, and then departed the chamber swifty and alone.
Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wished his rival the best, and struck down speculation that he would call a snap election to strengthen the hand of his minority government.
Casado was quick to condemn Ayuso’s “poor example” over the face mask contract, then backpedalled and sought to cancel the investigation.
Spain’s right-leaning El Mundo reported this morning that 16 of the PP’s 17 regional leaders would request Casado’s resignation at a meeting in Madrid on Wednesday night.
Turmoil in the PP, a party that has traditionally dominated Spanish politics, has generated large protests by supporters of the party’s feuding factions in Madrid and is likely to play into the hands of the country’s far-right Vox party, already the third largest force in parliament.
Jose Luis Ayllon, who was chief of staff under former PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said Casado could resign on Wednesday evening or stay on until a new party president could be elected at a PP congress in April – an option he deemed “better, (so as) not to confuse the electorate”.
He said his money was on Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the leader of the northwest Galicia region, to succeed Casado.
(eporting by Emma Pinedo, Christina Thykjaer and Belén Carreño, writing by Nathan Allen and Aislinn Laing, editing by Mark Heinrich)