14/03/2004 - D-7
The announcement by the Basque Separatist Movement ETA on 18th February last of a truce geographically limited to Catalonia has renewed the polemic surrounding the secret meeting on 26th January between the Chief Adviser to the Government of Catalonia, Josep Lluis Carod Rovira, president of "Esquerra republicana de Catalunya" (ERC), a leftwing movement and a member of the ruling coalition in Catalonia with the leaders of the Basque terrorist movement ETA.
Socialist party leader (PSOE), José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, did condemn this meeting in the end and not without managing to conceal the embarrassment and confusion that reigns within his movement on the very subject of State reform and a possible deepening of competence of the seventeen autonomous communities.
The announcement of this truce by ETA was vigorously denounced by the ruling Popular Party (PP) who immediately presented it as the result of a deal being passed between the ERC leader with ETA. Although Josep Lluis Carod Rovira had maintained that he had consented to no agreement with the Basque organisation and that his meeting had provided no results the announcement of the truce threw suspicion on his declarations once more. The Popular Party demanded that the Socialists break off relations with "Esquerra republicana de Catalunya", accusing them of violating the anti-terrorist pact which the country's two main parties committed themselves to in 2000, independent of their political differences, in order to unite in their efforts to fight against terrorism. The PP also declared that an "immoral agreement" had been signed and that the maintenance of the government coalition in Catalonia would be "a shame for all Catalans and all the Spanish together." Pasqual Maragall, (PSC), the Socialist president of the Catalan government answered that the coalition would remain in place and that "it would not betray the confidence of millions of Catalans," as expressed in the vote of 16th November last. Josep Lluis Carod Rovira, who will lead his movement's list in the general elections on 14th March did however resign definitively from his position as Chief Adviser (Deputy Prime Minister) to the Government that he had occupied previously. President Pasqual Maragall is to appoint a new ERC member to this position. Josep Bergallo, who is at present responsible for Education has been approached to succeed his party's leader.
On 26th February all the political movements except for the Popular Party demonstrated in Barcelona against ETA. PP spokesperson in the Catalan Parliament, Francesco Vendrell, justified his party's absence by explaining that the Popular Party's position had been unequivocal for many years, and stating that on the other hand that of the Esquerra republicana de Catalunya was far from being as clear.
According to an opinion poll undertaken by TNS-Democscopia and published in the daily newspaper ABC on 29th February the Popular Party is due to win between 174 and 177 seats in the Congress of Representatives (an absolute majority is 176) with 42% of the vote and the Socialist Party with 37% of the vote and between 133 and 137 seats. The third political force, Izquierda unida (IU), is due to win 7% of the vote and would have between 7 to 10 seats. As far as the nationalist movements are concerned, Convergencia i Union (CiU) is due to win 4.2% of the vote (10 or 11 seats), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), 1.5% of the vote (7 seats) and Esquerra republicana de Catalunya, 2% of the vote (6 to 7 seats, thereby enabling the Catalan movement to create its own parliamentary group). Opinion polls reveal certain contradictions between the electorate's wishes and their perception of the struggle going on between the different political movements. Hence although three quarters of the Spanish think that the Conservatives will win, two thirds believe that a change of government would be positive. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's popularity also remains higher than that of Mariano Rajoy (49% of favourable opinions for the PSOE leader versus 41% for that of the PP leader according to a poll undertaken for the daily newspaper la Vanguardia). The newspaper explains that this contradiction by the fact that although the Spanish say they are very satisfied with the country's economic situation they are not so happy with the political situation.
Prime Minister José Maria Aznar warned his successor Mariano Rajoy against a feeling of automatic victory and asked him to be more ambitious and launch himself into battle. "If he only aims at maintaining the result we have already achieved then he will end up by simply equalling it," he declared. Several times he has asked his troops to win a greater majority than that won during the previous general elections on 12th March 2000. "I want the best results ever achieved in the Popular Party's history," announced José Maria Aznar. Mariano Rajoy has promised, if he wins, to achieve full employment in the next ten years. "We are able to create two million additional jobs in four years to achieve an unemployment level of 8% at the end of this term in office and full employment in ten years time," maintained the Popular Party's leader. During the campaign the ruling party promoted its economic results; on 27th February Finance Minister, Cristobal Montoro, announced that Spain had recorded an unprecedented excess in its GDP of 0.3% in 2003 (0.1% in 2002), the best result in this area amongst the biggest countries in the European Union. The PP has also focussed its campaign on the defence of the country's unity pointing out that Spain had not witnessed any fatal attack on its territory since June 2003.
For its part the Socialist Party (PSOE) is trying to convince the Spanish of the need for political alternation denouncing property speculation, the precarious nature of the social services and José Maria Aznar's unconditional support of George Bush's policies. On 15th February around 150,000 people demonstrated in the major cities around the country in campaign for the return of the 1,300 Spanish soldiers stationed in Iraq. Although this is far from the millions of demonstrators at the start of 2003, the return of the war and the occupation of Iraq into the electoral campaign undeniably favours the Socialist Party. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has promised that if he wins he will call back the soldiers, if on 30th June Iraq's future had not been placed into the hands of the UN. The Socialist leader also maintained his desire to "restore the friendship with the Franco-German couple within the EU". We should remember that the enormous Spanish opposition to the Anglo-American war in Iraq did not lead to a vote against the Prime Minister's party during the last local and regional elections on 25th May 2003.
On 26th February the official launch of the electoral campaign started with the traditional billposting. Mariano Rajoy was in his native Galicia in Santiago de Compostela pasting the walls of the town with his party's slogan "Together we shall do more." For his part, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was in Madrid, pasting the walls of the capital with his party's posters that declared, "We deserve a better Spain."
Just a few days before the election opinion polls forecast a victory by the Popular Party but uncertainty remains as far as the majority, either absolute or relative, is concerned, to be enjoyed by the ruling party in Spain on 14th March in the evening. One thing only is certain already, the electoral dual is tighter this year than it was four years ago.