AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Swiss bank accounts, bribes, embezzlement, fraud up to the highest levels of government. Those are the headlines out of Spain this week amid allegations of under-the-table payments to top conservative politicians, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. His party denies it all and Rajoy has called an emergency meeting for tomorrow.
Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid on how Spaniards are finally saying enough.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Sofia de Roa is a talk radio host in Madrid. This week she swapped in some different music to open her show.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FRAYER: It's the "Godfather" soundtrack to reference this week's plot line in Spain. Donations from construction companies doled out to party bosses in fat envelopes of cash. And all of it recorded in secret ledgers.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We are fed up, totally fed up.
FRAYER: De Roa says Spaniards tolerated fraud in politics for far too long. It goes back to the medieval Spanish picaro, a clever rascal, she says.
SOFIA DE ROA: You know, when you see a man who is robbing, sometimes you clap to him. Yeah, you're the best because you are robbing and I'm stupid because I am not doing it. But I think this is changing.
FRAYER: Photographers have been camped out for weeks in front of the house of the ruling party's ex-treasurer who allegedly kept track of the bribes. A delivery man walks by and cracks a joke: Are you guys lining up for envelopes of cash? But a few years ago this pack of reporters wouldn't have been here. Hamilton Stapell, a Spain expert at SUNY New Paltz says Spaniards have long had this deference...
HAMILTON STAPELL: Towards Spanish politicians, the Spanish elite. They don't want to see those people crushed, you know, or humiliated. You know, that we want to have a window into these people's lives but at the same time we still admire them.
FRAYER: But when Spaniards feel like they're the ones being robbed, they get angry. The government is raising taxes and cutting spending on things like welfare and education. Unemployment tops 26 percent and now it comes out that those same politicians may have been lining their own pockets for years.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
FRAYER: We are no longer afraid, screamed protesters outside the ruling party's headquarters last night calling on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign.
LUIS DE VELASCO: Well, he must be very worried.
FRAYER: Luis de Velasco is a spokesman for UPyD, a political party founded five years ago on a mission to fight corruption.
VELASCO: Unfortunately, this scourge of corruption is increasing. And on the other hand, the attention of the citizen is also increasing. And I think this is very good. This is very good.
FRAYER: Attention, too, from Transparency International, which this week called on all Spanish political parties to revamp their opaque finances. Valentina Rigamonti is a senior coordinator for the group.
VALENTINA RIGAMONTI: They need to disclose their income and expenditures. They need to be more accountable and to be more transparent towards their citizens.
FRAYER: In just 24 hours, half a million Spaniards have signed a petition asking Prime Minister Rajoy to step down. He plans to address the public tomorrow. Meanwhile, opposition leaders like Luis De Velasco are dreaming of real reform.
VELASCO: Good laws, good justice, good and fresh justice and to Spanish people.
FRAYER: For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.