The last lap
The Prime Minister really put his foot in it last week. At the end of an interview with Inaki Gabilondo on Channel Cuatro, both men stood up to walk off the set with the camera still on them. Unfortunately the sound was on too. Gabilondo asked Sr Zapatero how the government was faring in the opinion polls. The PM replied: “Bien, nada, bien, hombre”, whatever that means. Gabilondo pressed him further: “Sin problemas, no?” (No problems?) The replied: “Lo que pasa es que yo creo que nos conviene que haya tension.” (I just happen to think that tension is in our interest). He then said that of this past weekend, he was going to dramatize the issues – as if he hadn’t been doing that these past four years. A government spokesman hastily explained after a transcription of the conversation appeared in the press that by “tension”, Sr Zapatero meant “mobilizing Socialist voters and sympathizers”, not making the political climate any tenser than it already is. But the spokesman was fooling nobody but himself. It’s been obvious for months now that the Socialist Party strategy for winning the March 9th election is to make the main opposition party, the Partido Popular, sound like something only Hitler could have dreamed up. When referring to the PP, the PM constantly uses words like “negative”, scare-mongering”, “radical Right”, “outright liars”, and “unpatriotic”. He is particularly fond of the last word. Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy only has to mention rising prices, inflation, the construction industry crisis, and the PM immediately screeches “unpatriotic”. Sr Rajoy is not supposed to talk about the Basque terrorist group ETA or Sr Zapatero’s negotiations with it. In fact, he’s expected to refer only to the good things the government has done. Hasn’t anyone told the Socialists that in an election campaign, your opponent is going to make the most of your mistakes and weak points in an effort to win voters over to his side. Sr Zapatero sounds more and more like a petulant brat with every passing day and he has promised something to just about everybody. Last week, he told a women’s rally organized by the Socialists that he would create 1.2 million jobs for women and give them equal pay if re-elected . Women are always the first to be sacked and the figures show there are almost twice as many jobless women as men. Women have also been demanding equal pay for years, so why hasn’t Sr Zapatero already done something about it? Why wait until all those women re-elect them? The latest survey by the Sociological Research Centre (CIS) shows that the PP is now only 1.5% behind the Socialist Party. No wonder the alarm bells are ringing at party headquarters and no wonder Sr Zapatero wants to scare the three out of ten voters who are undecided to go out and vote for him. The CIS questioned 18,000 people throughout Spain between January 21st and February 4th, during which period the PM made his famous promise to return 400 euros to all tax payers. It was also at the height of the crisis during which Madrid mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon threatened to resign because Sr Rajoy would not let him run as a parliamentary candidate for the PP. The mayor, considered to be just right of centre, is very popular with the Socialists, who should be relieved at his exclusion because he could have robbed them of votes. However, he has never made a secret of the fact that he wants to be prime minister, even at the expense of ditching Rajoy. During the same period, the bishops asked people not to vote for any party that had negotiated with ETA and the biggest rise in unemployment in the last 30 years was registered. According to people who answered the CIS poll, the Socialists are good at managing social problems but the PP managed the economy better during its eight years in power. They also gave the Socialists good marks in the areas of health and the environment, but poor marks in immigration, housing and terrorism. Just over 15% of those questioned said they believed the PP would win the election, but nearly 40% said they would prefer a different party to the Socialists. Based on voter intention, the CIS poll said the Socialists will get between 158 and 163 seats this time around (164 in 2004), and the PP, which currently has 148 seats, will get between 153 and 157. Whichever way you play the figures, they don’t look good for the government. Apparently, the slogan between now and March 9th is going to be: “Go out and vote for us or you’ll get them back” – “them” being the PP. Sr Zapatero will have to pull a pretty big rabbit out of his magician’s hat in the next three weeks to get him out of this bind.