PP cuts Socialists' lead as immigrant integration plan proves attractive

11th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Numbers battle reaches climate change, as Rajoy pledges to plant 500 million trees

11 February 2008

MADRID - In a race to see who can offer more, the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) and opposition Popular Party (PP) are resorting to bigger and bigger numbers in an effort to attract new voters by the 9 March general elections.

Following the Socialist promise to plant 45 million trees as a way to fight global warming, PP leader Mariano Rajoy announced late last week that if elected, no fewer than 500 million trees will be planted - that's 238 trees per minute over the next four years.

The figures are also stacking up when it comes to nursery spots for children up to three years of age, who currently number a million and a half in Spain. Of these, only 17 percent have access to free nursery care due to a major shortage of public facilities. Aware that this could be a decisive issue for voters with small children, the PSOE and PP are promising 300,000 and 400,000 new public nursery spots, respectively, although it remains to be seen how either party would manage to implement their pledges, since regional authorities, and not central government, are in charge of public nurseries.

Pensions are another key issue where both sides are promising increases in the smallest paycheques ranging from a EUR 150 hike if the PP wins, to EUR 200 if the PSOE remains in power.

But the battle is also being fought on ideological grounds. Last weekend, in an interview with the newspaper 20 minutos, Rajoy said that he would take away gay couples' right to adopt children, which is allowed following a reform of the Civil Code made under Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Last week, Rajoy also said he would create an "integration contract" forcing immigrants to learn Spanish and be taught the essentials of Spanish customs if they want to live in this country.

"I want to remind that female genital mutilation, polygamy and arranged marriages are a crime in Spain," said Rajoy at a party rally in Alcalá de Henares last Saturday.

Contrary to what the government expected when it called the idea of an immigrant contract racist, a new survey shows that a majority of voters, 56 percent, support it. What's more, a lot of that support is coming from traditional left-voting areas with significant immigrant communities, and up to 45 percent of PSOE voters said they agree with the Rajoy's suggestion that immigrants should respect the Spanish way of life.

This same poll shows that the PP is closing in on the Socialists in voting intention, with the oppositions now just 2.9 percentage points behind the Socialists. Part of the reason is the PP's strategy of taking votes away from the left on the immigration issue, but the economic downturn may be a bigger factor. The economy, warned the Metroscopia survey, has become "an issue with unpredictable consequences on final voter decisions."

[Copyright EL PAÍS 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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