10 March 2008
MADRID, Spain – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist Party took a clear victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections but remained short of an absolute majority.
The government would open "a new phase," without tensions with the conservative opposition that had characterized the previous legislature, Zapatero told an ecstatic crowd waving hundreds of red flags.
Zapatero pledged to govern "thinking, before anyone else, of those who do not have everything."
"We took more votes than ever," Mariano Rajoy, leader of the conservative People’s Party (PP), which also gained seats, told an equally jubilant crowd.
The PP would be "up to the circumstances" and defend its convictions during the upcoming legislature, Rajoy vowed.
The Socialists won 44% of the vote and 169 seats in the 350-strong parliament, up from 164 seats in 2004, with 95% of the votes counted.
Short of an absolute majority, the Socialists remained dependent on the support of smaller leftist and regionalist parties to govern.
The PP took 40% and 153 seats, up from 148 seats in 2004.
The losers were the smaller parties as the two large parties increased their representation in a sign of the growing bi- polarization of Spain’s political scene.
The third party was the Catalan nationalist formation CiU, which took 10 seats, the same number as in 2004.
It was followed by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) with 6 seats and by the far-left Izquierda Unida which went down from 5 to 3 seats.
Voter turnout was estimated at 75%, only slightly beneath the level of 2004, when large numbers of Spaniards went to polls after Islamist train bombings shocked the nation.
The Socialists had feared that many of their traditionally more passive supporters would not vote, but the killing of a former Socialist councillor by the militant Basque separatist group ETA two days before the elections appeared to have mobilized voters.
All the parliamentary parties had called on citizens to use their right to vote in a show of the strength of democracy against terrorist violence.
About 35 million people were eligible to elect 350 members of the lower house of parliament and 208 of the 264 members of the senate.
The defeat of PP leader Mariano Rajoy was his second to Zapatero, who took a surprise victory in 2004 after eight years of conservative rule.
The 2004 result was believed to have been influenced by the train bombings by an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell, which killed 191 people three days before the poll.
Many voters attributed the attack to the then conservative government’s alliance with the United States in Iraq and suspected the government of lying when initially blaming the bombings on ETA.
The subsequent legislature was characterized by constant tension between the opposition and the government, with the PP strongly condemning Zapatero’s failed attempt to negotiate with ETA.
The electoral campaign was also unusually virulent, with Zapatero and Rajoy accusing each other of lying during two live television debates watched by more than 10 million people.
The PP’s campaign had focused on the government’s policy on ETA and on Spain’s economic slowdown after a decade-long boom.
The conservatives also accused the Socialists of not controlling illegal immigration and of endangering Spain’s unity by granting regions such as north-eastern Catalonia more self-government.
In addition to disputes about anti-terrorism policy, Zapatero’s first term in office was marked by sweeping social reforms, including major women’s rights legislation. The law obliged the parties to have nearly as many female as male candidates in Sunday’s elections, 75% more than in 2004.
The Zapatero government also gave homosexuals full marriage rights, adopted a comprehensive law against domestic violence, made divorce easier, and reduced the Catholic Church’s influence on education.
[Copyright dpa 2008]