SPANISH ELECTIONS Socialists retain power in Spain
PSOE remains the biggest party, but without an overall majority The Socialists have retained power following Spain’s general election on 9 March, and increased their number of seats in parliament. The ruling PSOE party of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero won 169 seats in the lower house, the Congress of Deputies, an increase of five seats on its performance at the last general election in 2004. However, the result leaves Mr Zapatero seven seats short of an absolute majority in the 350-member chamber.
Conservatives increase share of the vote; smaller parties lose out The opposition conservative People’s Party (PP), led by Mariano Rajoy, won 154 seats – also an increase of six seats – and saw its share of the vote rise. The increases for the two main parties came at the expense of regionalists and nationalists. Convergence and Union (CiU), a centrist Catalan party, won ten seats, as it did in 2004. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) won six, losing one seat compared to the previous election, and the remaining eleven seats were split between regional parties (from Catalonia, Galicia, Navarre and the Canary Islands), the United Left (IU) party, and the Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) party, which won its first parliamentary seat. UPyD was formed only last September, as a centrist alternative to PSOE and the PP. Turnout at the election was 75.3 per cent – only slightly lower than the record turnout in 2004. As in 2004, when the elections took place in the shadow of the Madrid train bombings, the end to this election campaign was also marred by violence – this time by the shooting of a former PSOE councillor, Isaias Carrasco, in the Basque country on 7 March. It is believed that ETA, a Basque terrorist-separatist group, was responsible.
Analysis: Zapatero to rely on regional parties The results of the election have little changed the political balance in Spain: PSOE remains in power, and Mr Zapatero as prime minister, but without an overall majority. Mr Zapatero is likely once again to lead a minority government, but relying on an alliance with regionalists and nationalists. This time, PSOE is likely to work with CiU following the disastrous showing by the AGENCY OF THE YEAR 2007 Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), Mr Zapatero’s previous partner, which now holds just three seats, a loss of five.
Alliances with regional parties saw the Socialists in parliament approve measures to reform regional institutions and powers, especially in Catalonia in 2006. However, opponents (led by the PP) are challenging these reforms in the constitutional court. Such alliances also brought promises of improved infrastructure and investment in Catalonia. In addition, Mr Zapatero tried – unsuccessfully – to resolve the Basque question. ETA declared a ceasefire in March 2006, opening negotiations that continued until the end of the same year when the group group brutally ended the truce by exploding a bomb at Madrid airport.
Analysis: the economy and immigration to the fore In spite of criticism of Mr Zapatero’s policies in this area, the main focus of the election was the economy, against the background of a slowdown in the housing market (with prices falling in some areas), a rise in the cost of living, inflation at a ten-year high, and increasing unemployment. With the economic environment worsening, PSOE will have a difficult four years ahead – and some have suggested that this may have been a good election to lose. The other principal issue – mainly espoused by the PP – was immigration. Five million people have moved to Spain in the last decade, and the PP called for better border controls, more respect for Spanish culture, and repatriation of criminals. However, on both the economy and immigration, voters seemed to express confidence in Mr Zapatero’s record and his ability to resolve future problems.
Analysis: endorsement of social reforms PSOE focused on its record of liberal social reforms – including the legalisation of gay marriage, a law on gender equality, and easier divorce procedures. Despite criticism from conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church, Mr Zapatero’s party can take the result as an endorsement of these measures.
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Outlook: tackling inequalities the priority Mr Zapatero pledged a fresh start for Spanish politics following a divisive electoral campaign. In an emollient victory speech, he said that the Spanish people “have spoken clearly and have decided to open a new period without tension, without confrontation”. Mr Zapatero’s priorities are likely to remain similar to those in the previous parliament, focusing on removing inequalities in society, particularly those affecting women, young people and older people.
December 2007, when both the major parties expressed support for the Treaty. The likely date for ratification is October 2008 at the latest. Spain’s priority at EU level is likely to remain the establishment of a common immigration policy. Mr Zapatero’s win would also seem to take him out of the running for the new role of President of the European Council – and re-establishes a hurdle in the path of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, in his bid for the job.
EU impact: Europe's indecisive voters No big changes are expected in the government’s structure or membership.
Outlook: a new PP leader? Mr Rajoy congratulated Mr Zapatero and wished him luck “for the good of Spain”. It seems possible that the PP leader will stand aside, having presided over two successive election defeats since taking over from José Maria Aznar in 2004. Mr Rajoy’s performances in the two televised debates were lacklustre, and his campaign seemed to focus more on the right-wing vote than on reaching out to centrists. The PP may turn to a new leader to revitalise the party and build on an increase in seats in parliament and in share of the vote.
EU impact: Lisbon treaty and Immigration policy The renewal of PSOE’s mandate means that any change to EU policy is unlikely. Spain remains a strongly pro-European country, and ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is almost certain in the light of the first debate on the issue in Parliament in
The slender win by PSOE represents the continuation of a trend of national elections in Europe in recent years - the narrow split between Left and Right. Indeed in Spain, the PP held its majority in the upper house of the Spanish parliament, the Senate, following partial elections held on 9 March. In recent years Germany and Italy have seen tight election results transformed into a grand coalition and an unstable government respectively. Socialists won a narrow victory in Hungary in 2006; liberals and conservatives squeaked home in Denmark last year. Coalition governments abound, in countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria; elsewhere opinion polls are close (such as in the UK) or governing parties have been subject to electoral reverses in local polls (most recently in France). So despite a good win for PSOE, it is too soon to suggest whether this result signals a leftward turn in Europe – especially given that Italy’s centre-right seems likely to win the general election in April. For the moment, Europe’s voters remain quite evenly split between Left and Right.
RESULTS : Spanish Congress of Deputies PNV
ERC (Catalan leftist): IU (United Left): NA-BAI (Navarre): BNG (Galician Nationalist): PSOE (Socialists): PNV (Basque Nationalist): CiU (Catalan): CC (Canary Isles): UPyD (Progress and Democracy): PP (Popular Party):
3 2 1 2 169 6 10 2 1 154