On March 12 the majority of Spanish voters were in
favour of continuity and stability. The conservative Partido Popular (PP) of
Prime Minister José María Aznar won about 45% of the votes - that gave
the PP a comfortable majority in parliament. 183 out of 350 mandates in the
Congreso, which is a situation that has not been seen before in post-Franco Spain. In addition the PP
kept its majority in the Senate, 150 out of 259 mandates.
Under the leadership of the former inspector of finances, the pale José María
Aznar, a man without charisma - unlike his socialist predecessor Felipe González, Spain was able to reduce its unemployment rate. When the PP took over power
in 1996 it was the highest in the European Union: 20%. Within four years, the
rate was reduced to - still impressive - 15%. The PP government also managed to
make Spain a part of the Eurozone, fullfilling all criteria of Maastricht.
Aznar reduced the level of taxes - especially the middle class benefited from
it, he reformed the very restrictive labour law and opened up the Spanish
markets. Inflation is under control and the growth rate is, with around 4%,
above the European average. For once, not a charismatic leader with empty
promises, but a solid worker has won the Spanish elections thanks to the
performance of his government.
The official electoral result of March 12, 2000:
millions of votes - votes in % - mandates in the Congreso (total 350).
Data of 1996 in brackets.
PP 10,230M.(9,716) PSOE 7,829M.(9,425) IU 1,253M.(2,639) CiU 0,964M.(1,151)
The socialist PSOE government of Felipe González had made some historic
choices such as the definitve integration of Spain in the European Union and it
was able to overcome the traditional aversion of the left against NATO -
González' long time political comrade, Javier Solana, even became NATO's
secretary general. But also the PP stands for Spain's integration in Europe and
NATO, and on the domestic level, the PSOE government was almost a compete failure.
Its socialist recipes were responsible for the enormous number of unemployed
Spaniards. In 1996 a new orientation was inevitable also because the government
had lost the people's trust through a series of scandals.
After four years in government, Aznar can not only point to the mentioned
economic successes but he was also able to reduce negative preconceptions in
parts of the society against the resurgence of representatives of the far right
in the ranks of the PP with a certain nostalgia for Franco and his regime. Of
course, it remains to be seen how Aznar and the PP will govern Spain since they
now have a majority in parliament and do not need the support of
regional parties in Catalonia and the Basque region anymore. The dialogue with these
regions remains important if Spain wants to avoid a resurgence of regional
The electoral result is a small revolution in Spain's political
landscape. Not only for the absolute majority of mandates won by the PP, but
also because the left lost a lot of popular support. The Socialist PSOE and the
Communist Izquierda Unida (IU) together are weaker than the PP alone. PSOE and
IU were for the first time united in an electoral alliance against the PP. The
strategy chosen PSOE-chairman Almunia backfired on him and it was only logical
that he took the consequences from this defeat and resigned. Almunia did not
understand that in today's Spain the ideological division between left and right is
largely a thing of the past. In Spain as in most European countries elections
are won in the center. The PSOE offers no alternative on the economic level. The
introduction of the 35-hour working week is no serious measure in order to fight
unemployment. The PSOE's criticism of the government's handling of
privatisations may not have been completely unfounded, but there have not been
systematic irregularities - and if one thinks back to the PSOE's scandalous
government one can hardly imagine that the left would have acted in a more
Another striking element of the electoral earthquake of March 12
is the fact that Aznar no longer needs the support of the regional nationalist
parties. Even before the elections, the chief of government announced that he
would renounce the support from the Basque PNV because it had collaborated
with the extremists of Herri Batasuna (HB) that are closely tied to the Basque
terror organization ETA. ETA has still not realized that the Franco-regime
ended in 1975 and that in democratic Spain terrorism is no longer accepted as a
way to impose political ends. ETA is looking for complete independence of the
Basque region. Aznar can only offer an autonomous status as it largely already
exists. He cannot go much further and therefore terrorist actions are likely to
continue. On the contrary to Catalonia, where the economic elite is in support
of the regional nationalistic CiU, the elite in the Basque region, where the big
traditional Spanish banks have there headquarters, does not stand behind HB.
Therefore, the forces seeking independance in the Basque region are less controllable than the ones in Catalonia.
The electoral result also
affects the position of Catalonia's strong man, Jordi Pujol of the CiU. He was so used to his role as kingmaker that he unwisely (or as a contribution to
political transparency) announced the price to pay for his future collaboration
with the government before the elections took place (he formulated a
twelve-point program). After the election result became public, the PP
supporters sang vicious songs about the small man from Barcelona - Aznar of
course can not fully be identified with his supporters. Still, Pujol could well
suffer from a backlash for the strong positions held in the past which are often
interpreted by the rest of Spain as "blackmail" - a lot of Spaniards
envy the Catalan economic success that in fact comes as a fruit of hard labour.
Astonishingly the CiU is an exception among regional parties who in general won larger electoral support whereas votes for the CiU declined from 1,151 million
in 1996 to 0,964 million in March 2000. Aznar's stronger position that results
from this decline also has its dangers since Catalan nationalism could rise
again if the PP should ignore Catalanian interests and that could well
destabilize Spain. The future will show whether Aznar remains a wise head of
José María Aznar was born in Madrid in 1953. He is married and
has three sons. After graduating from the law school of the University Complutense
of Madrid, he became an inspector of state finances. In 1979 he was
elected General Secretary of the Alianza Popular de Logroño. From 1982 to
1987 he served as General Secretary of Alianza Popular Spain. In 1989 he
was the presidential candidate of the Partido Popular and later became its
president. In 1996 finally he managed to rise to power. The PP won the
elections with a small advantage in front of the ruling socialist PSOE
thanks to the support he got from regional parties.