Spanish parliament begins work amid hopes for more peace

1st April 2008, Comments 0 comments

It hopes the new legislature would be less quarrelsome than the previous one.

1 April 2008

MADRID - Spain's Parliament held its constituting session after the elections three weeks ago on Tuesday, amid hopes that the new legislature would be less quarrelsome than the previous one.

The legislature would be "better than the previous one," re- elected Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in an apparent reference to the constant tension between the government and the conservative opposition.

Former defence minister Jose Bono, a Socialist, was elected president of the lower house on the second round in replacement of Manuel Marin.

Bono was the first president of parliament to be elected without an absolute majority since Spain became a democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

He was believed to have failed to obtain the backing of Catalan and Basque regionalists, who see him as opposing policies increasing regional autonomy, in the secret vote.

The Socialists, who took their second consecutive election victory on 9 March, will now pursue talks with the other parties to seek support for Zapatero's investiture as prime minister.

Like Bono, Zapatero was expected to be elected without an absolute majority on the second round. The Socialists wanted to avoid engagements with regionalists seeking more autonomy and to retain a freedom of action, analysts said.

Zapatero's willingness to increase the self-government of regions such as Catalonia had been criticized by the conservative Popular Party (PP), which warned of the disintegration of Spain, during the previous legislature.

The new parliament was marked by its polarisation between the two main parties, which increased their representation at the expense of smaller formations.

The Socialists have 169 and the PP 154 seats.

The two have pledged to seek a consensus on key policy areas such as the fight against the militant Basque separatist group ETA, in contrast to the conflictive atmosphere that marked the previous legislature.

The main challenges of the new government include a sudden economic slowdown, with growth expected to drop from 3.8 percent in 2007 to possibly less than 3 percent this year.

Socialist Javier Rojo was re-elected president of the upper house or senate with an absolute majority.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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