Challenges for the victor

15th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

As José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero prepares to take power next week, the euphoria of his shock victory must seem long ago. He has promised to transform Spain into a more tolerant society, but this ideal is likely to be eclipsed by the challenge of terrorism. Graham Keeley examines the future for Spain's new premier.

Zapatero wins

Zapatero was swept to victory in the aftermath of the 11 March attacks in Madrid

In a recent poll, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was voted the most desirable person to go out for a drink with.

Quite how the conversation might turn after a few 'copas' is anyone's guess. But surely the new Spanish premier will have a lot on his mind as he prepares to take the reigns of power in just a few days.

Many believe Zapatero has to lead a country which is still trying to come to terms with what happened in Madrid last month.

Claude Weill, a journalist for French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, said: "Zapatero finds a nation in shock. All the debate before [11 March] is now futile.

"Never has a European country had such a savage attack. Never has a people changed a (democratic) majority in blood and tears. Strange victory.

"For the Left wing this is the time for a difficult revolution. Hope is wearing a black veil."
The hardest challenge will be how Zapatero deals with terrorism.

After seven terrorists blew themselves up in a Madrid flat, a video was discovered which promised to continue attacks on Spain. It cited Zapatero's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan as the reason.

*quote1*It seems Zapatero's Spain, independent from the US, is just as much a target as the country under Jose Maria Aznar's pro-Bush administration.

The way that Zapatero deals with terrorism will not just affect how safe the average Spaniard feels but also where Spain stands in the world.

Nicolas Checa, a former adviser to the new prime minister, and Richard Klein, a US State Department international security adviser, wrote in The New York Times: "Zapatero's success will depend heavily on his vision for fighting terrorism at home and abroad while maintaining the diplomatic and military independence of a nation now central to European foreign, national and economic security."

Key figures

11 March

The way Zapatero deals with terrorism will affect Spain's place in the world

His first move boded well - he picked Jose Bono, who has a good track record in government, as security minister.

Away from terrorism, Zapatero has pleased the markets by appointing the "market friendly" Miguel Sebastian as finance minister.

But beyond this, Zapatero is ambitious: he wants to achieve a sexual and social revolution.

He aims to legalise gay marriage, rid state schools and medical research of Catholic dogma, create unbiased state television and pass laws eradicating sexism.

He appointed Carmen Caffarel as the new head of Spanish state television, with a brief to repair its damaged credibility and eradicate 'telebasura' – the dismal programmes which dominate the schedules. A communications professor, her appointment was also met with enthusiasm.

*quote2*Zapatero wants to crack down on domestic violence, a big political issue in Spain.

He promised "the beginning of complete equality of the sexes, of the unceasing fight against criminal machismo."

Beyond this, Zapatero wants a "modern, cultured, tolerant" Spain.

Unwinding the Aznar years

What he really means, many believe, is that he wants to eradicate the conservative legacy of eight years of conservatism under Aznar.

One highly controversial issue is the 'Ley de Calidad' – Law of Quality – which would make religious instruction part of the curriculum in state schools. Zapatero has promised not to implement it, even though the law was adopted last year.

Gay marriage, which Zapatero favours, should not meet much opposition; but gay adoption – although legal in one state – may be a sticking point.

 Another social issue which might prove controversial is abortion – the Socialists have promised to allow women to opt for abortions during the first 12 weeks. At present it is illegal except in cases of rape, a problematic foetus or danger to the woman's mental or physical health.

Zapatero has promised to increase the number of affordable homes available to low- and middle-income people as well as new immigrants. It helps that Spain has a healthy economic outlook which is based on a housing boom; the problem is not demand but supply of affordable homes.

If Zapatero were to confide exactly how he is going to achieve all this – over a few glasses of cava – it might be a long night.

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Living in Spain, Spanish politics, Zapatero

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