Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's election time!


Not the US election, but the Spanish election. On March 9 Spaniards will go to the polls to vote for Parliament -- 350 seats in the lower chamber, the Congress of Deputies ,and 208 seats in the upper chamber, the Senate. The make-up of the Parliament determines which party (or which coalition of parties) selects the Prime Minister, who is also referred to as the President of the Government.
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The two major parties are the conservative PP (Partido Popular - Popular Party), led by Mariano Rajoy and the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español - Spanish Socialist Workers Party), led by the current Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Other parties include:the United Left (IU), Convergence and Union (CiU), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).
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Compared to the USA, campaigns in Spain are relatively brief -- thank God! While there is plenty of maneuvering and posturing for a few months before the election, advertisements are only allowed during an officially designated campaign period. For example, on January 14 of this year the Spanish government approved the dissolution of Parliament and called for general elections on March 9. The official electoral campaign runs from February 22 until March 7.
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However, before the advertising begins parties issue statements, candidates make promises, polls are conducted and the media covers it all. So far the PSOE has promised to a 400 euro tax rebate for all citizens, while the PP has said it would require immigrants to sign a "contract" promising to learn Spanish, adapt to the culture and traditions of Spain and obey the nations laws. Both parties promise more nurseries and pre-schools, higher pensions and to plant trees to combat climate change. (The PSOE was the first to come up with the tree offer, and said it would plant 45 million trees nationwide. Last week the PP upped the ante by promising to plant 500 million! So, either way, Spain will be greener by 2012, right? Yeah, right!)
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As for controversy, well, the Spanish Catholic Church got into the act by issuing a letter telling its members not to vote for parties that support abortion rights and gay marriage -- in other words, don't vote for the PSOE. (The Zapatero government introduced full gay marriage in Spain in 2005. The PP has said it does not intend to overturn it.) The Government was so bothered by the Spanish Bishop's Conference intrusion into the political process that it had its ambassador to the Vatican make a formal complaint. (The Pope has yet to respond -- and if he does, I'll bet it's with a similar letter of his own.)
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The economy is a major issue and will surely affect the outcome. The Spanish housing market bubble is deflating, if not exactly bursting, with prices beginning to fall; price increases for basic necessities have been sharp; unemployment is rising; and because of world-wide economic instability, Spaniards seem to be a little jittery in general. This has been a rather recent turn around, coming after a few years of steady economic growth.
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This change in exonomic fortunes probably has done more than anything else to allow the PP to cut into the PSOE's lead in the polls. A month ago, the PSOE was widely seen as having the best chance at victory. Now, according to one major survey reported on in today's El Pais, the PSOE has only a 2.9% lead over the PP.
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So, who will win? ¿Quien sabe?

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