11/02/2008 - Analysis
On 20th December last, after Parliament's approval of the 2008 budget Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party PSOE) announced that the next general and senatorial elections would take place in Spain on 9th March 2008. The head of government was appointed on 25th November by PSOE members as their candidate. "I promise to lead you to victory," he declared. The two main parties PSOE and the People's Party (PP) – have been running neck and neck in all of the polls. Over the last few weeks though, the Social Democrats, who have been in government since 2004, have started to race ahead of their rivals. One month before the election, the PSOE are still in the lead, but the gap with the Popular Party (PP) is becoming narrow.
On 9th March next Andalusian voters will also elect their regional parliament.
The Spanish Political System
Spanish Parliament (Cortes Generales) comprises two Houses: the Senate and the Congress of Deputies. 300-400 MPs are elected every four years by party-list proportional representation (the Hondt system) within the Spanish provinces (except for Ceuta and Melilla). Each of the 50 provinces chooses at least two deputies (one only for Ceuta and Melilla), the rest being spread between the provinces depending on the size of the population. The average number of seats per constituency is 6.7. A list has to win a minimum of 3% of the vote to be represented in the Congress of Deputies.
The Senate, the upper Chamber, comprises 208 members elected by universal suffrage (provincial senators) and 49 representatives appointed by the 17 autonomous communities (community senators). Each province elects four provincial senators whatever the population size except for Ceuta and Melilla, who appoint two and the Balearic Isles and the Canary Islands, the major islands of which (Gran Canaria, Majorca and Tenerife) each choose three, and the smaller ones (Ibiza-Formentera, Minorca, Fuerteventura, Gomero, Hierro, Lanzarote and Palma), one senator each. In addition to this each autonomous community elects one community senator as well as an extra one for every million inhabitants.
The senatorial elections take place on the same day as the ones for the Congress of Deputies. The election is run according to party-lists except on some islands.
13 political parties are represented in the present Congress of Deputies:
- The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), led by Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero – the party was founded in 1879. It has 164 MPs;
- The Popular Party (PP), the main opposition party led by Mariano Rajoy. It was founded in 1977 and has 148 seats;
- Convergence and Union of Catalonia (CiU), a Catalan electoral alliance founded in 1978 and led for a long time by Jordi Pujol but now led by Artur Mas – it has 10 seats;
- Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), a leftwing Catalan party founded in 1931 led by Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, which dominated the Catalan political arena until the beginning of the Spanish civil war. It has 8 seats;
- The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), a nationalist, Christian-Democratic party founded in 1984 and led by Josu Jon Imaz. It has 7 MPs;
- Canarian Coalition (CC), a regionalist party allied to the People's Party in Parliament. It has three seats;
- The Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG), a nationalist party founded in 1982 and led by José Manuel Beiras. It has two seats;
- United Left (IU), a leftwing electoral alliance founded in 1986. It has two seats;
- Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United, Alternative Left (ICV-EUA), a regionalist party alliance with Catalan ecologists – it has two seats;
- Valencian Left (EV) – United Left of Valencia (EUPV), a nationalist party with one seat;
- Aragonese Council (CHA), a regionalist, nationalist party which campaigns for greater autonomy for Aragon – it has one seat;
- Basque Solidarity (Eusko Alkartasuna, EA), a nationalist, social-democratic party that emerged after it split from the Basque Nationalist party – it was founded in 1986 and has one seat;
- Navarre Yes (NB), a party campaigning for the annexation of Navarre to the Basque Country – one seat.
The gender equality law, approved in April 2007, now prohibits the presentation of any list with over 60% of candidates of the same sex in all elections. This law makes it obligatory for companies employing more than 250 people to start negotiations to implement true gender equality. Hence company boards will also have to include at least 40% women within the next eight years. 49% of the Socialist Workers' Party's candidates will be women in the general elections on 9th March next. It put forward 42% in the last elections on 14th March 2004.
The Zapatero Government, four years on
Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is a representative of the Nueva Via (New Way) trend within the PSOE. Often compared to his former British counterpart Tony Blair whose youth and pragmatism he shares, Mr Zapatero can boast results than are the envy of many European countries. The Spanish GDP has grown by 3 to 4% per year since 2004.
His government has significantly reduced unemployment that lay at 11.4% in 2004 and at 8.6% in 2007. 3 million jobs have been created over the last four years, which is more than Germany, France and the UK together. The lack of job security, which has always been great in Spain in comparison with other European Union States, has decreased considerably. For the first time in the country's history the budget records a surplus of 50 billion euro, i.e. 2.3% of the GDP (1.8% in 2006). Spain is ahead of Italy in terms of revenue per capita. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's aim is to move ahead of France in the next four years.
"We are just in the first phase of our project and our work," maintains the Prime Minister. The PSOE's programme in the general and senatorial elections is focused on the following main lines: social and employment well-being, innovation and sustainable development, freedom, cohabitation and citizens' rights. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wants to increase the minimum salary from 600 to 800 euro in four years and raise small pensions to 700 euro (in comparison with 497 for a single person) and 850 euro (650 for a couple at present). He is promising to abolish property and inheritance tax and to create two million more jobs by 2012. Finally the Prime Minister promised to give 400 euro to 70% of taxpayers in time for these elections which the opposition has condemned as a vote-catching tactic.
Finally the Socialist leader would like to double the number of nursery places (to reach the figure of 300,000) and is promising to provide 2,500 euro in aid for the birth of every new child in a country where there is practically no real family policy.
Economic Horizons Forecast to be Turbulent
However for the last few months Spain's socio-economic indicators have slipped into the alert zone. The slowing of the construction and public works sector which employs 13% of the working population, representing 7.5% of the GDP is an especially worrying sign for the country's economy. Real estate transactions dropped by 12% between January and October 2007. Household consumption that has pulled growth along for years, has plummeted and inflation is rising (4.4%), likewise the number of unemployed (132,378 additional unemployed between December 2007 and January 2008, one of the highest rises in a number of years). Finally retail sales fell in December for the first time in 20 months.
The PSOE announced that it had succeeded in obtaining the promise on the part of the present Economy Minister, Pedro Solbes, to stay in office if they win. The latter aged 65 had said that he wanted to retire from the political arena after the general and senatorial elections on 9th March. The party hopes that this announcement will reassure the Spanish since Pedro Solbes was one of the main craftsmen of the economic miracle that has taken place over the last few years.
The People's Party (PP), for its part, is proposing to revive consumption and economic activity, to reduce company profit tax by 5 points (25% for the big companies and 20% for the SME's), to abolish income tax for 7 million households, to bring the higher rate of the same tax below the 40% mark (43% at present) and to reduce the lowest rates from 24% to 12%. The liberal party also hopes to reduce income tax by 16% and to exempt all of those whose annual revenues are below 16,000 euro per year from this tax (today only those earning under 9,000 euro annually do not pay income tax) i.e. 7 million tax-payers and finally to reduce tax on women's work by 1,000 euro "to compensate for the inequalities they suffer on the labour market." The PP accuses the Zapatero government of not having sufficiently guaranteed the diversification of the Spanish economy over the last four years.
The PP is taking advantage of the slowing in the economy. "José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government is dangerous for the economy and for Spanish families," repeats Mariano Rajoy. However as the election draws close the PP has had to rethink its campaign strategy. It had planned, given the economic results achieved by the Zapatero government over the last four years, to focus its campaign on the defence of national unity (the PP is against the rise of regional autonomy fostered by the PSOE), on family values (threatened by the law on homosexual marriage) and finally on the Basque issue, a scourge that has been poisoning Spanish society for decades. The most recent polls have made it change its angle of attack however. These reveal that unemployment is the main worry for the Spanish (40%), housing comes second (32.9% of those interviewed) and finally economic issues (29.4% of interviewees).
The Basque Issue
The separatist, terrorist Basque organisation, ETA has been responsible for the deaths of 819 people over the last 40 years. For most of this government's term in office the PP has accused the PSOE of being too lax with ETA and of negotiating with terrorists. However many recent police raids (arrest of the Batasuna-Unity leader, Arnaldo Otegui – in Basque Batasuna is the last name of the same nationalist Marxist-Leninist coalition that emerged at the end of Franco's dictatorship in 1978 – in March 2006; 22 other leading members of the movement were arrested in October and December last year and then on 6th January 2008 two ETA members involved in an attack on 30th December 2006 that led to two deaths at Madrid Barajas airport were also arrested; finally on 4th February Pernando Barrena, the Batasuna spokesperson and Patxi Urrutia, a party member were taken in by the police), as well as the way the authorities have tried to find the necessary proof to prohibit the nationalist parties who have helped Batasuna, a façade for ETA that has been banned since 27th March 2003, have deprived the People's Party of one of its main battle-horses against its Socialist adversaries.
The State's Prosecutor General, Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon has just suspended the activities of two Basque political parties for the next three years, this sentence can be extended by another two years if necessary (the Communist Party of Basque Territories – PCTV-EHAK – a far left party which has always refused to condemn the violence perpetrated by ETA and that has nine seats in the regional Parliament and Basque Nationalist Action – ANV – a co-founder of Batasuna in 1978 which won 437 town council seats and which has been in charge of 42 town councils in the Basque country and Navarre since the last local elections on 27th May 2007. They have been accused of three crimes: collaborating with a terrorist group, illicit association and fraud. These parties will not be able to stand in the general and senatorial elections on 9th March next.)
José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero always maintained he that had broken off all negotiations with ETA after the attack they claimed to have undertaken on 30th December 2006. The Prime Minister however admitted that talks have taken place since that date between the Spanish authorities and the Basque movement – at least until the so-called "ironhand" policy was established after 5th June 2007, when the truce, which the organisation had declared on 22nd March 2006, was officially broken off by ETA. In the night of 7th to 8th February last ETA committed the first attack of 2008 by exploding a 15 kilo bomb in front of the court in Bergara near San Sebastian. "A society that wants to be free and fair cannot have any terrorist organisations as political representatives from any part of the population and cannot use them as political partners," declared José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Spain at a Crossroads
33 years after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, Spain, which has undergone incredible transformation over the last few years, seems to have reached a crossroads now.
José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government has helped greatly in the modernisation of the country since 2004. Spain, a deeply Catholic country, allows marriage between homosexuals which it also allows to adopt children in the same way as heterosexual couples can. The divorce procedure has been simplified; the dependency law has also been approved, dedicating public funding to the elderly and the handicapped. The gender equality law approved in April 2007 establishes greater equality between the sexes. Special courts, unique in Europe have been created to prosecute individuals who are guilty of domestic violence. The Social Democratic government has even approved a law with regard to historical memory to correct the most obvious cases of injustice that went unheeded when the Moncloa Pact was signed (October 1977 by all political parties represented in Parliament to establish a new Constitution, to re-establish democracy after the fall of Caudillo Francisco Franco and to stabilise the country's economic and social situation). Obligatory religious lessons have been abolished and a citizenship programme is part of Spanish children's educational curriculum.
Most of these reforms were not really popular amongst the country's religious authorities and they have been denounced by the People's Party which stands for family values. On 31st January last the Catholic Church's hierarchy publicly criticised the PSOE for the measures taken over the last four years. The bishops did not overtly call for a vote in favour of the PP but they indicated the parties which a Catholic should not link his votes to. But the real innovation lies elsewhere in the argument used by the Church: the attempt at negotiating with ETA. "The bishops have the right to call for a vote in favour of the PP but this time they have gone too far. They gave in to the temptation of using terrorism in the electoral campaign and they do not have the right to do that. And if we do not accept it from Mariano Rajoy, we cannot accept it from the Bishops either," complained José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero after the Catholic hierarchy's declaration. As for the PP they have been careful not to frighten off the more centrist voters, who are quite in favour of the laws approved by the Social Democratic government. Hence although Mariano Rajoy is against calling the union of two people of the same sex, "marriage" he has however announced that he would not go back on the principle of the union which grants homosexual and heterosexual couples identical rights.
The PP is accusing the Socialists of undermining the foundations of the Moncloa Pact by encouraging regional autonomy and radicalising local nationalism. In the spring of 2006 the community of Valencia achieved the reform of its autonomous status followed on 18th June 2006 by Catalonia and on 18th February 2007 by Andalusia. Galicia, Aragon, Murcia, the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Castille-Channel, Asturia and the Basque Country have also started reform which should grant them greater capacity for self-government.
Juan José Ibarretxe, lehendakari (president) of the Basque regional government said on 28th September that he would organise a referendum on the Basques' right to govern themselves on 25th October 2008; the leader of Esquerra de Catalunya, Joseph Lluis Carod-Rovira is requesting a referendum on self-government in Catalonia in 2014, the 300th anniversary of the fall of Barcelona to the Bourbons.
In order to better understand the policy undertaken by the PSOE as far as the regions are concerned we should consider the last general and senatorial elections and remember that Spain was not expecting the defeat of the PP on 14th March 2004. "No one could foresee that the right would lose the elections and that José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero would need the support of some nationalist parties to form a majority," stresses Enrique Gil Calvo, professor of Sociology at the University of Complutense in Madrid. "Spain has changed greatly over the last thirty years and rich regions like Catalonia have increasingly resented pouring more money into the common pot than it receives in return," indicates Ramon Maiz Suarez, political science professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Some hope that Spain will turn into a Federal State, others fear this.
Over the last few months the King suffered some rough treatment. At the end of July a humorous drawing which was published in the daily satirical El Jueves show Prince Felipe, the heir to the throne, frolicking with his wife Letizia with a caption saying "Do you realise that if you get pregnant it will be the closest I have ever come to achieving something like work in my entire life." On 13th September Catalan partisans burned portraits of King Juan Carlos during a visit by the monarch to the region. Finally on the other side of the political scale Federico Jimenez Losantos, a conservative journalist working for the official Episcopal radio station, Cope (second largest audience rating in the country), makes constant appeals to the King, whom he criticises with regard to some of his friends, to abdicate to give way to his son.
Juan Carlos reacted to these attacks. On 10th October in his capacity as Head of the Armed Forces, he chaired the National Defence Council, a military body that has not met since 2002, with Prince Felipe and the Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in attendance. The week before, when in Oviedo (Asturia) he recalled that "the monarchy had enabled Spain to enjoy a long period of democratic stability and prosperity". These were strong words from a man whose discretion is legendary. The Head of Government José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero took advantage of this occasion to stand as the defender of Spanish unity and of the monarchy.
Juan Carlos, who has been considered for a long time as a protective figure and a guarantor of democracy, is now considered obsolete by some of fellow countrymen. "Spain broke off from the monarchy and it was the arms and desire of the dictator Franco who put it back as head of the institutions;" declares Miguel Jorda Tarrago, chairman of the association Civic Unity for the Republic. Several leftwing, pro-independence Catalan senators put forward an amendment on 27th September last which aims to withdraw the function of Head of the Armed Forces from the King in order to give this responsibility to the Prime Minister.
A Weakened Opposition
Just one month before the general and senatorial election the PP has been weakened by internal differences. Indeed Mariano Rajoy rejected the candidature of the Mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, re-elected on 27th May last with 55.54% of the vote (the best result achieved by a candidate in the capital since Spain's return to democracy). He will be replaced as the leading candidate of the People's Party by Ana Botella, the wife of former Prime Minister (1996-2004) José Maria Aznar. Second on the list features Manuel Pizarro, former manager of Endesa, the main manufacturer and supplier of electricity in Spain and Latin America; at present the latter is a member of the board of Telefonica, the biggest telecommunications company in Spain. Manuel Pizarro is believed to be the People's Party's candidate for the Economy Ministry.
According to political analysts, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon is said to have been damaged by the President of the Madrid Region, Esperanza Aguirre (PP) who had expressed her wish to be on the electoral lists if the mayor of the capital was candidate. The eviction of Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon is considered by all analysts of the Spanish political scene as a victory for the clan belonging to the most conservative trend in the PP over the party's more centrist members. This eviction also satisfies those who saw a possible successor to Mariano Rajoy in the young mayor of Madrid, notably if the right loses the elections on 9th March next. Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon has announced that he will leave politics after these elections. "In politics sometimes you win sometimes you lose. This time I have lost," he commented.
Although since 1983 the outgoing party who was victor of the previous local elections has always won the parliamentary election that followed, it would have taken an extremely gifted person to discern which party was to win the last local election on 27th May 2007. The PSOE and the PP emerged on an equal footing. The PP won 35.6% of the vote and the greater percentage of town halls: 35.66%, in comparison with 28.82% for the PSOE whilst the latter won 34.9% of the vote but a greater number of town councillors (24,029, against 23, 349 for its rival). The PP won in the majority of the 52 provincial capitals, the PSOE won 24, i.e. 9 more than in the previous local election on 25th May 2003. This tight result led the two parties to say they had won the election.
According to a poll by Publiscopio, published on 4th February last by the newspaper Publico, the PSOE is said to be ahead of the PP by 6.4 points in terms of voting intentions. A survey by Metroscopia, published by the daily, El Pais said that the ruling party was only ahead by 3.4 points. Finally the poll by DYM, published in the newspaper ABC credits José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero with a 3.8 point lead over Mariano Rajoy. Only one third of PP sympathisers think that the latter will win the general and senatorial elections on 9th March next according to a recently published poll in Publico. Neither of the two main parties is due to win the absolute majority on 9th March.
Reminder of the General and Senatorial Elections – 14th March 2004 in Spain
Turn out: 77.21%
Congress of Deputies
Source: Spanish Home Office
Source: Spanish Home Office