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Elections



     Joan Ubeda, a professor at the Pompeu Fabra University if Barcelona, spent a year as a visiting fellow at Stanford University. A much appreciated member of WAIS, he sent this report on the elections in Spain. He has doubts which did not appear in the newscasts from Madrid:
     We had elections today in Spain. The incumbent ruling Partido Popular (right-wing) has obtained 183 seats in Parliament, an absolute majority (the house has 350 seats).
     The Socialist Party has sustained a major blow, losing about 20 seats. They had 145 and now have 121. The former Communists have gone down from 16 to 8 seats.
     Most other, minor parties have more or less kept the seats they previously had, except in the Basque Country, where the radical nationalists (the so called abertzale nationalists, which give support to ETA's terrorism) promoted abstention. This has benefited the Basque Nationalist Party and the Popular Party.
     All analysts point to two major reasons for the landslide: the good economic climate and the lack of a convincing challenger from the Socialist Party. The current president of the government, Aznar, is no charmer --he is rather dull and boring-- but being in power is already a very good start. The socialists are in a slow-motion crisis of leadership since they lost the 1996 elections and they could not bring a good opponent to Aznar, not even with their last-minute alliance with the former communists. Almunia, the secretary general of the Socialist Party has admitted the size of the defeat and has already resigned from his position (resigning is not a very common thing for Spanish politicians to do, and analysts praise Almunia for his quick move).
     In my opinion, the right-wing majority is not good news, for two reasons:
     a) the Spanish political system does not have the checks-and-balances structure of the US system. An absolute majority means, to most practical effects, absolute power. This was already a problem when the socialists enjoyed absolute majority in the early 80s.
     b) the right wing party pretends to be modern and centrist, but it has shown in the past quite an authoritarian streak. When they came to power in 1996 they engaged in a battle to control the media which pitted the party (and the government) against PRISA, the major media group (publishers of El País). A few minutes ago I heard some pundits on a right-wing radio station say that "we will now be able to restrain all those nationalists who want to break up Spain".
     My fear is the right-wingers in the right-wing Popular Party will now be able to get their way, now that they do not depend on any other party to stay in power. This could mean dismantling the little welfare state that has been created in the last 20 years (education and health will be affected); they may try to impose a "policed" solution to the Basque Country situation, as opposed to a political one.


     My comment: For an excellent outsider's view of the Spanish situation, see the feature article in The Economist (3/11). I hold both Aznar and Almunia in higher esteem than Joan Ubeda seems to. The elections were conducted on a high level.

Ronald Hilton - 3/13/00


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