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Against all expectation the socialists win the general elections

Against all expectation the socialists win the general elections

14/03/2004 - Results

The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) won the Spanish General Elections claiming 42.64% of the vote and 164 seats. Its main adversary, the Popular Party won 37.64% of the vote and 148 seats. Izquierda unida (IU) came third with 4.9% of the vote (five seats). It was followed by Convergencia i union de Catalunya (CiU), 3.24% of the vote (ten seats), then Esquerra republicana de Catalunya (ERC), 2.54% (eight seats) and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) with 1.63% of the vote (seven seats).

The days remaining before the election were marked by the most deadly terrorist attack that had ever happened in Spain. On Thursday 11th March ten bombs exploded one after another in Madrid in four suburban trains leaving 200 dead and 1500 injured to date. As soon as the attacks were made public all of the political parties decided to end the electoral campaign and a national three-day period of mourning was declared across the country.

The terrorist attacks seem to have had significant influence on the general election results. The participation rate was particularly high at 77.21% i.e. seven points more than during the previous election on 12th March 2000. This high participation rate was to the Socialist's advantage. We should also indicate that nearly 2,000,000 young people were called to vote for the first time during these general elections; the first-time voters possibly tilted the balance in favour of the Socialists.

"It appears quite clearly that there were circumstances that caused a shake up in opinion," declared Eduardo Zaplana, the government spokesperson on the publication of the results. Although a week before the election most opinion polls said that the Popular Party would win (the publication of polls is prohibited in Spain during the week leading up to the election), they seem to have suffered from the way it managed the crisis initiated by the attacks. Hence Home Minister Angel Acebes is accused of having immediately blamed the Basque terrorist organisation ETA for these crimes and continued along this line of thought although all clues were pointing investigators in the direction of Islamist networks. "There is no doubt" about ETA's responsibility maintained the minister on several occasions, qualifying the rumours about an Islamist attack as "brainwashing". Likewise the whole government was accused of lacking transparency and of multiplying ambiguous statements. Although ETA denied all responsibility in the attacks on Friday in a telephone call to the pro-independence newspaper Gara, the terrorist organisation's usual means of communication, Al Qaeda did however claim its responsibility for the crime, a first time on Friday via a communiqué released by the Abou Hafs Al Masri/Al Qaeda brigades to the newspaper Al Qods Al Arabi based in London and a second time on Saturday in a video via "a military spokesperson in Europe", Abou Doukhan Al Afgani. On Saturday the head of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy said in an interview with El Mundo he had "the moral conviction" that it was the Basque terrorist movement and then again on Sunday, the Foreign Secretary, Ana Palacio maintained in an interview with the BBC that "the idea that ETA was behind the attacks was still omnipresent."

On Friday evening millions of Spaniards went out into the streets of the main towns across the country to show their sadness, honour the victims and to celebrate their unity in the face of terrorism. Government head, José Maria Aznar, walked through Madrid behind a banner "With the victims, with the Constitution and for the defeat of terrorism". The slogan on this banner, that was ambiguous in terms of the possible responsibility of the nationalists was criticised by the opposition. Prince Felipe and his two sisters, the infantas Elena and Cristina joined the popular demonstration along with a number of European personalities such as, Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, the French, Italian and Portuguese Prime Ministers, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Silvio Berlusconi, Juan Manuel Barroso, Louis Michel, Belgian Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister and Javier Solana High Representative of the EU for Foreign Policy.

On Saturday several thousand people turned out after the appeal made by alterglobalist associations to demand the whole truth about those behind the attacks. Several dozen people were still demonstrating on Sunday morning in Madrid outside of the Popular Party's HQ accusing the government of having lied about those responsible for the attacks. "Before going to vote we want the truth," demanded demonstrators. The Prime Minister was booed when he went to fulfil his duty as a citizen with his wife, Ana Botella, who is a town councillor in Madrid. Mariano Rajoy, head of the Popular Party was also jeered as he went to his polling station.

Finally many people protested against the broadcast on Saturday on Spanish TV of a documentary "Assassination in February" on the killing in Vitoria in February 2000 of a Socialist MP, Fernando Buesa and his bodyguard, Jorge Diez by ETA in replacement of a variety show that had initially been planned. The same documentary was broadcast on Friday on Telemadrid, a TV channel that is answerable to the regional government of Madrid and chaired by the Popular Party. The channels justified their choice in a communication to the Spanish press agency EFE by saying that it "was a criticism of terrorism and a tribute to the victims"; they declared they had wanted to express their feeling against terrorism "whoever had been behind that attacks".

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is 43 years old, will therefore be the next Spanish Prime Minister. Until now he was unknown to the man in the street; he was elected head of the Socialist Party four years ago after a difficult internal struggle and has made it his goal to "provide the party with a modern overhaul". The teacher of constitutional law, grandson of a Republican soldier shot by pro-Franco troops during the civil war, was elected at 26 to become the youngest Socialist MP in the Congress of Representatives. He is nicknamed Bambi by his supporters and has had to fight in order to assert himself within a party where the old barons still have greater influence and often make their voice of discord heard. On Sunday evening the head of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy telephoned his rival to congratulate him on his victory. The future Prime Minister started his first speech by a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the attacks. "Today the electorate announced they wanted a change of government," he then declared.

On 14th March the Spanish also voted to elect 208 provincial senators. The Popular Party won this election, gaining 102 seats against 81 for the Socialists. Finally the Andalusians led by Manuel Chaves Gonzalez won an absolute majority with 50.27% of the votes and 61 seats. The Popular Party won 31.79% of the vote and 37 seats, Convocatorio por Andalucia (CA), 7.51% (six seats) and the Andalusian Party (PA), 6.19% of the votes and five seats. The participation rate in the regional elections rose to 75.85%.

Since the Socialist Party does not enjoy an absolute majority they are obliged to join forces with other movements even though the constitution of a minority government might also be possible depending on the agreements made with other parties. The outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, will ensure the interim until the new government has been formed. He will therefore represent Spain during the next European Summit in Brussels on 25th and 26th March.

A safe, unbiased observer of Spanish political life and strongly symbolic of the country's unity can be found in King Juan Carlos who declared before the results were announced that these general elections were an unprecedented event in the country's history. "The winners and losers are in the same boat at the height of the storm. Turmoil reigns across the world. Spain is no longer a country looking in on history. It has entered the 21st century," the sovereign maintained.

Results of the General Elections on 14th March 2004

Participation rate: 77.21%

Source Spanish Home Office
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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