POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON

Free at last

At least four post-election political developments indicate that Sr Zapatero might have decided to put the interests of the country above the interests of minorities who hate Spain and everything Spanish. The first piece of good news was the appointment of former Interior and current Defence Minister José Antonio Alonso as the Socialist Party’s parliamentary spokesman for the incoming government. Sr Alonso is a practical, rational, intelligent man who seems to have no axes to grind, unlike his predecessor, Diego Lopez Garrido, who never missed an opportunity to have a go at the main opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP). Sr Lopez Garrido wasn’t always a Socialist. He started out his political career in the Communist-dominated Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left), which explains why he hates the PP so much. Sr Alonso is not a member of the Socialist Party and apparently has no intention of becoming one – which is a point in his favour. The second piece of good news was the election of former Defence Minister José Bono as president of Parliament, the equivalent of the UK Parliament’s Speaker. Sr Bono resigned his post for “personal reasons” but it was no secret that he bitterly opposed Sr Zapatero’s “peace process” with the Basque terrorist group ETA. All the nationalist parties opposed his election as parliamentary president so the voting went into a second round, for the first time since the1977. As a practising Catholic, Sr Bono was the only cabinet member to be sworn in on the Bible by King Juan Carlos after the 2004 election. The rest of the government swore an oath promising to fulfil their obligations. He was regional president of Castilla-La Mancha five times in a row, and lost out to Sr Zapatero in the Socialist Party’s leadership contest in 2000 by a mere nine votes. He is known as a rather blunt politician who says he puts the interests of all Spaniards at the heart of policy-making. He can be trusted to put the nationalists in their place and keep them there. The third piece of good news was opposition leader Mariano Rajoy’s decision to appoint Soraya Saenz de Santamaria as the PP’s parliamentary spokesman. She’s been described as “Rajoy in skirts” but she’s no pushover. Since she won a seat on the last election, she’s converted herself into Sr Rajoy’s right hand woman, and a lot of the PP’s old guard are reportedly not happy about her appointment, mainly because it augurs their demise. It seems Sr Rajoy is now determined to be his own man, which means edging out those who were close to former Prime Minister José María Aznar and bringing in a younger generation who are closer to the political centre than the old guard. If true, the party’s annual congress in June could be a very interesting event. The fourth piece of good news is that it looks as if Sr Zapatero has decided not to forge any official alliances with minority parties in order to have an outright majority in Parliament. Before he can be sworn in as prime minister, Sr Zapatero’s election has to be confirmed by Parliament, a process that will start this Tuesday (April 8th). If his party had won an overall majority of 176, he could expect to be automatically elected during the first round of voting. But the Socialists once again didn’t quite make it and have been holding discussions with the other minority parties – most of them nationalists – in an attempt to obtain that majority. In fact, Sr Zapatero doesn’t need any allies because he got more seats than any other party – 169 – which gives him what is called a simple majority. Even if all the other parties vote against him – which won’t happen – he’ll still get voted in during the second round the next day. This is something he avoided in 2004 because he wanted to make his election victory look stronger than it was. So he allied himself with the Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) and the Catalan Republican Left, ERC, who then proceeded to use their clout to push him into making divisive political decisions which he might have avoided, or toned down, if left to his own devices. Hence his decision to go it alone for this week’s confirmation, even though it may mean becoming the first prime minister since the transition to democracy to be confirmed by a second round of voting. This indicates he may be planning to make temporary political alliances only when necessary during his next term. And they may not be necessary because at least for the foreseeable future, Sr Zapatero is going to have to concentrate on the economy. As long as he doesn’t do something as quixotic as promising to pay everyone’s mortgage, he should get the backing of the Partido Popular, which means the minority parties can go take a walk. Free at last!

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