Opposition struggles to confront future
1 October 2004, MADRID- Spain's main conservative opposition Popular Party was meeting for its first congress Friday since its stinging general election defeat earlier this year.
1 October 2004
MADRID- Spain's main conservative opposition Popular Party was meeting for its first congress Friday since its stinging general election defeat earlier this year.
Prior to the 11 March Madrid train bombings the party was confident that it would go into this year's meeting basking in the warm glow of a third straight general election victory.
But the shock of the attacks, which left 191 people dead and some 1,900 wounded, coupled with the PP's initial blaming of Basque extremists even as evidence emerged implicating Islamic militants, saw the party cast from power and the Socialist Party (PSOE) returned to government.
Jose Maria Aznar, prime minister from 1996 to 2004, had announced before the election he would not seek re-election, having handed the party leadership six months prior to the poll to his deputy Mariano Rajoy.
Aznar also vowed to leave frontline politics -- yet the party is now due to anoint him as honorary president, leading observers to speculate that he will be pulling strings in the background even if Rajoy holds the party reins.
Further complicating the task of making a fresh start is the lingering presence of 81-year-old Manuel Fraga, the last heavyweight survivor from the days of General Francisco Franco's military dictatorship.
Fraga says he plans to keep on playing a major part in political life from his Galician fiefdom in the northwest, but the Popular Party is divided at regional level over his role.
The overall impression is of a party struggling to present a united front, with the controversial figures of Aznar and Fraga dominating press coverage ahead of the conference.
The Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has reversed Aznar's deeply unpopular policy on Iraq, by withdrawing Spanish troops from the US-led multinational force there in line with an election pledge.
Zapatero's government has also pursued a markedly liberal social agenda, set to include the legalisation of gay marriage, which has sharpened the divide between the countries' two main political forces.
The Popular Party is faced with finding a new role in a changing society, in which two-thirds of voters support the Socialists' progressive agenda, and in which the values of the Roman Catholic Church and the Franco era are steadily losing ground.
Rajoy has already marked out his territory, declaring in July that "I am in charge of the PP and it is for me to determine its political orientations."
But according to a recent poll by Cadena Ser radio, 55.9 percent of Spaniards see Aznar as the power behind his throne.
Some members of the party's liberal wing are sympathetic towards allowing civil same-sex unions.
However conservatives see the Socialist agenda on gay marriage and similar issues, such as making divorce easier to obtain, as tearing apart the traditional fabric of society.
One potential future PP leader, Madrid mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, will make the opening speech to congress at which he is to call for the party to move "closer to the people".
Deputy PP general secretary and former interior minister Angel Acebes told reporters Thursday that the party executive contains a "magnificent pool of people with experience, who have served Spain in posts of responsibility."
But it falls to Rajoy to prove that the party has recovered from the trauma of its March defeat.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news