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No. 5, April 2000
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Added on April 6, 2000
The elections in Spain
Victory for Aznar and his conservative government
 
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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)
44.54%(38.79)
34.08%(37.63)
  5.46%(10.54)
  4.20%(  4.60)
183(156).
125(141).
    8(  21).
  15(  16).

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 nationalism.
 
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 proper way.
 
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 government.
 
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.
 
For links to the Spanish government, political parties and newspapers click here.
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 5, April 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.