Monday, March 10, 2008

Zapatero Zaps Opposition


Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it had a nice ring to it. Anyway, Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist party, the PSOE, did win yesterday's national election. However, they only gained one seat in the Congress of Deputies (from 168 to 169 out of a total of 350), which means they are still a bit short of an absolute majority. (Seven, to be exact.) Mariano Rajoy's conservative party, the PP, picked up 6 seats (from 148 to 153). This increase might be enough to assure that Rajoy stays on as party leader, although he was not seen or heard from today.
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The enigmatic conservative Catalan party, CiU (Convergence and Union), is the only other party that increased its seats, going from 10 to 11. With the ruling socialist party not having a strong majority, this Catalan nationalist party could have significant influence in the new parliament.
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Perhaps the most interesting result of the election was the drop in votes for smaller parties: the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), which advocates independence for Catalonia, went from 8 seats to 3. Another of the regional nationalist parties, the Basque EAJ-PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), lost one seat to go down to 6. The left wing IU (United Left) went from 5 to 2 seats and the party leader, Gaspar Llamazares has since announced that he would resign. The few remaining seats went to CC-PNC (Canary Island Coalition - 2 seats), BNG (Galician Nationalist Bloc - 2), UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy - 1 seat) and Na Bai (Navarre Yes - 1). The Aragonese Council and Basque Solidarity parties did not garner enough votes to win parliamentary seats.
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Interestingly, in the Senate, where there are currently a total of 259 seats, the PP (Popular Party) technically won more seats than the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party), although both parties declined in their total numbers. The PP went from 102 to 101 seats and the PSOE went from 81 to 89. There are more seats in the Senate and 56 of those are not elected but are appointed by regional legislatures. Of the other elected seats, 12 were won by the Catalan Coalition called Entesa (Catalan for "understanding") which is made up the Catalan socialist party (PSC), the ERC, ICV (Catalan Green Initiative) and EUA (United Alternative Left); 4 were won by CiU and 2 by the EAJ-PNV.
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Of the two houses, the Congress of Deputies has more power, including the authority to choose the Prime Minister and the ability to override most Senate decisions with a majority vote. Apparently one unique power of the Senate is to appoint judges.
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At his party's headquarters in Madrid, Zapatero gave a victory speech in which he paid tribute to victims of terrorism and their families, including the Basque socialist party member, Isiais Carrasco, who was assassinated by ETA last Friday. He then went on to say he would continue with things he has done well and correct his mistakes. Today the media seem to be presenting him as humbler and ready for dialogue. Only time will tell.
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I suppose among the things some voters view as accomplishments during his first 4 years were withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq in 2004, giving more autonomy to the Regional Communities that make up Spain, making divorce easier and legalizing same-sex marriage. However, these are not things that touch on most Spaniard's day to day lives in a significant way. In fact, on the subject of the economy, which effects everyone, I hear many people (even some who say they voted for him) grumbling that he has done nothing to address it. Many people seem to think he has more or less just let it coast along, pretty much on autopilot -- and now it seems to be crashing.
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So, why did Z's PSOE win in the Congress of Deputies? Well the consensus among people I've talked with is that people voted against parties rather than for a party. Perhaps people were tired of the squabbling caused by the smaller separatist and nationalist groups. Perhaps the PSOE's publicity aimed at making people frightened of the PP worked. Perhaps the PP's own broken-record mantra of fear mongering against immigrants and bemoaning the decline of "Spanish" family values put people off. Perhaps no other parties seemed to be offering meaningful alternatives. Perhaps people simply preferred Zapatero to Rajoy, as opposed to the PSOE to the PP. (Surveys indicated that Zapatero won the televised debates he had with Rajoy, which were watched by many Spaniards.)
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One final note: at 75%, voter turnout was as high as it was in the 2004 election. How does that compare to voter turnout in your country? It puts mine to shame.
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Chao amig@s,
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Carloz

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