Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), was re-elected to a second term, defeating opposition candidate Mariano Rajoy, party leader of the Partido Popular (PP). The PSOE victory signaled an end to the heated campaign between the two candidates, which ignited at the start of the elections.
According to official results, Mr. Zapatero won 43.36% of the vote, or 169 members of parliament, while Mr. Rajoy garnered 39.85% (153 members). Other independent parties, combined, gained 12.58% (28 members).
Spain had been on maximum terror alert since two days before the election, following the assassination of former city councilman Isaias Carrasco in the town of Arrasate, in the Basque region. Before the election, ETA (Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna, translated from Basque as Basque Homeland and Freedom) claimed responsibility for the murder, causing fears among some about the outcome of the elections.
For almost half a century, ETA has been blamed for the deaths of more than 800 people.
ETA is referred to by news media as a “Basque separatist group.” Their language and culture is distinct from Spanish and they encompass seven regions of northern Spain and southwest France, referred to as the Basque region.
In March 2004, Spain’s elections were rocked by several explosions on commuter trains in Madrid, which killed 191 people and injured thousands. Many maintain the PP’s insistence that the attacks were perpetrated by ETA, even after al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, caused them to lose credibility with voters.
But even threats from ETA, who ended a 15-month ceasefire in 2006, did not stop Spaniards from flocking to the polls. While some claim the prime minister is responsible for failed talks with the organization, other Spaniards do not want to see negotiations occur at all.
“I’ll be voting for a new party—the Union for Progress and Democracy,” said bank worker Pilar Luque in a BBC News report. “They defend the Spanish flag, the Spanish nation and are against independence for regions like Catalonia.”
She added, “And on ETA, they say there should be no dealings with terrorists. By contrast, both the socialists and the PP have entered into [sic] dialogue while in government.”
Some Spaniards decried their need to make sure that the PP does not take power again.
“I’m voting for PSOE because I don’t like any of the alternatives,” Sebastian Lopez, a student, told the BBC. “Their policies are not based on lies,” he said, referring to the 2004 attacks on Madrid.
Although Mr. Zapatero’s social reforms were originally forecasted to take center stage, the economy appeared to be the most important topic to Spanish voters, followed by immigration and national societal reforms.
Just weeks before the election, Spain’s inflation registered its highest increase rate—4.4% since last year—the highest it has been since 1995, reported the Latin American news service Prensa Latina. Some of the main reasons were the result of higher gas and food prices.
In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Social Party Campaign director Oscar Lopez said the prime minister’s promises of domestic reform made all the difference for Mr. Zapatero’s re-election campaign. “We’ve shown that we’re best prepared to confront this economic slowdown and demonstrated to Spanish families that we’re the ones who will help them.”
Issues such as foreign relations and terrorism were noticeably absent during the campaign, which surprised political analysts, given Mr. Zapatero’s staunch position against the Iraq war. Immediately after the first time he was elected prime minister, Mr. Zapatero pulled Spanish troops out of the military conflict.
“Second-term leaders often turn a greater part of their energy to foreign policy,” Reuters Jason Webb wrote before the recent election. “If Spain’s Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is returned for another term in Sunday’s election, it’s a luxury he is unlikely to have. For all the satisfaction in Spain over its rise up the ranks of European economies, its foreign policy remains in the second tier, and a grim economic outlook make it likely to stay there.”
Even Mr. Zapatero’s supporters say he emphasizes his relationship to the European Union, and follows behind France and Germany, more so than Spain’s prominence on a world scale as the fourth-largest economy in the EU.
Charles Grant, of the Centre of European Reform in London, said to Reuters that Spain tends to maintain a “regional policy.”
“Obviously it’s interested in North Africa and Latin America, but it’s not interested in Russia,” Mr. Grant said. “The Spanish line has been very much to never criticize the Russians.”
Mr. Webb’s article continues, “By returning Spain to its traditional role as follower of the European Union’s Franco-German axis, Zapatero also bade farewell to the foreign policy prominence Spain had acquired, for good or ill, as a cheerleader for the Atlantic Alliance.
“‘Spanish foreign policy is completely based around the European Union,’ said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“‘If the European Union doesn’t work well, it’s in trouble.’”
Immigration also remained a hot button topic. Following the election, the Spanish daily El Mundo reported that 921 immigrants died in 2007 trying to get to Spain. Since the beginning of 2008, nearly 2,100 have arrived to the Spanish coastline, mainly from North Africa.
The election highlighted the contrasting concept of “two Spains,” as popularized by Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Since the end of General Francisco Franco’s rule, Spain has been split down the middle—between those who embrace traditional Catholic Spanish values and those who oppose them.
Upon taking office in 2004, Mr. Zapatero promised to fight for equal rights for women and homosexuals. He appointed various women to cabinet positions, made getting a divorce easier, and championed gay marriage and the ability of homosexual couples to adopt children. His reforms have pleased those in Spain who are looking to build upon the foundation he established while in his first term as Prime Minister.
“I’m not left-wing at all, really, but I’m worried that if the government changes, we could take a step back on social changes if people like the Church get more influence,” said one homosexual man living in Madrid, who had recently married another man (Reuters).
On the other hand, the Catholic Church—which has long opposed abortion and gay marriage—was pleased that the outcome of the Spanish elections did not fall completely on domestic reforms, given the Vatican’s “waning power” in the country.
According to a poll published by Reuters that detailed peoples’ reaction to several bishops who advised Catholics how to vote in the election, “34 percent of people thought the Church’s pre-election speech would benefit the PP. But nearly 26 percent thought it would be bad for Mariano Rajoy’s party, and 27 percent thought it would have no effect.”
It remains to be seen how the PSOE will continue to deal with issues confronting the Spanish economy and its people.