Campaign opens with parties neck-and-neck
Socialists seek to mobilise their support, PP looks to key provinces22 February 2008
MADRID - Political parties formally opened the campaign for the 9 March general election at midnight last night, with the governing Socialists struggling to overcome voter apathy and the main opposition Popular Party (PP) scrabbling to pick up votes in key provinces.
Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was due to begin a frantic two weeks of rallies, conferences and public appearances with a speech at Madrid's convention centre, while his main rival for Spain's top political post, conservative PP leader Mariano Rajoy, launched his campaign in the southern city of Cádiz.
Though the official start of campaigning may help to raise interest in the lead-up to a general election that has so far been short on policy but big on controversy, both parties are likely to face an uphill challenge in getting voters to the ballot boxes on election day. A poll released yesterday by the Catalan regional government showed that just 59 percent of the region's residents who are eligible to vote plan to do so, compared to 77 percent in the last election four years ago.
Votes from Catalonia proved crucial to the victory of Zapatero, who also benefited from an upsurge in last-minute support from young voters and people who had been planning to stay home. In the 14 March 2004 election, three days after Islamist terrorists killed 191 people on Madrid trains, 75.7 percent of the voting-age public cast ballots.
With the most recent opinion poll giving Zapatero a lead of just 1.5 percentage points, Socialist Party officials admit that they probably need at least the same level of turnout again in order to win. Their campaign will therefore target swing voters and apathetic Socialists. The PP, meanwhile, will target 12 provinces where it believes it can reclaim Congress seats it lost in 2004.
[Copyright EL PAÍS 2008]
Subject: Spanish news