POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 31st March 2008

Difficult choices

It looks as if the Socialists’ policy of keeping the Partido Popular out in the cold is going to complicate the political scene for the next four years. Sr Zapatero is once again in the position where he cannot form a majority government without the support of one or more minority parties. Unfortunately, all those parties – with the exception of the Communist-dominated Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) – are nationalist, including the Canary Island Coalition, the Galician Nationalist Party, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Catalan Convergencia i Union (CiU). The only two that have any weight are the PNV, which has six seats in the new Parliament – Sr Zapatero needs seven to get a majority – and the CiU, which has ten. However, both parties have been flexing their muscles, making it quite clear that they will expect a lot in return for their support, such as the right to total self-government. The logical alliance would be with CiU, which would give the government 179 seats. An alliance with the PNV would leave the government one short of a majority and the permutation here would be to take the Galician Nationalist Party on board as well. Fortunately for the country, his old alliance with the IU (two seats) and the Catalan Republican Left (three seats) is no longer viable so he won’t have to put up with these two bullying allies pulling him every which way. But having been given a whiff of power, the Basque and Catalan nationalists are already behaving so stroppily that the Socialist Party warned them last week that Sr Zapatero was willing to go to a second round of voting in order to get sworn in. What happens now is that Parliament convenes on a date picked by Sr Zapatero to vote in his new government, which is why it’s important to have at least 176 seats, that is, a majority of one. If Sr Zapatero can’t get that number then he has to go to a second round after further talks with possible allies. The most logical thing of all would be for the Socialists to sit down and come to some sort of agreement with the PP because the two parties between them got just over 21 million votes from the 26 million or so people who actually voted. However, that course of action demands a political maturity which the Socialists do not seem to have attained yet. Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy has already announced he intends to focus on economic issues during the next four years, which Sr Zapatero knows he has to do as well. Inflation, rising unemployment, a mortgage crisis and a lack of competitiveness on the international market are the spectres that haunt his dreams and he knows he has to put non-economic issues on the back burner for the time being. So if the two main parties are concentrating on the same issues, it would make sense for them to work together as far as possible. Sr Zapatero will need PP votes if he has to adopt unpopular measures to stop the current economic crisis from getting any worse because he won’t get them from the smaller parties, who can afford to be demagogic and play to the gallery because they’re not governing. But his irrational hatred of the PP continues to cloud his vision. Hatred breeds hatred, and there’s no denying that former Prime Minister José María Aznar openly despised the left-wing and nationalist politicians, who hated him with a passion. This hatred has spilled over onto Sr Rajoy, who probably doesn’t deserve it. Unfortunately he was handpicked to lead the PP by Sr Aznar before he stepped down at the end of his second term instead of by an internal party vote, which he probably would have lost. But that’s another story. What is more immediate here is that Sr Zapatero is treating over ten million people the same way as Sr Aznar treated the Left and the nationalists. Sr Zapatero, his party and his allies mounted a four-year-long and frequently vicious attack on the PP in the hope of wiping it out. But the PP got over ten million votes in March, nearly a million more than in March 2004. Meanwhile, the nationalists took a bit of a thrashing both in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where the Socialists did unusually well. However, in Andalucia – where the Socialists have ruled since 1981 – the PP did remarkably well, increasing their number of seats in the regional parliament by ten, while the Socialists lost five. An unbiased observer would conclude that the Spaniards are fed up with nationalists and Communists and prefer a two-party, middle-of-the-road system. It may sound less democratic, as the smaller parties claim, but it would seem to be the will of the majority on a national level, and that’s what democracy is all about.

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