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Spanish general election to be held on 14 March

9 January 2004

MADRID – Spain goes to the polls on 14 March, it was announced Friday.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar named the date for the general election after a meeting with his Cabinet in Madrid.

Government spokesman Eduardo Zaplana told a news conference Friday that Aznar will meet  King Juan Carlos to ask him to dissolve Parliament so as to clear the way for the election campaign to begin.

Parliament will stop sitting from February 27 and the election campaign will finish on 13 March.

The general elections come four years after Aznar  won his second term and his conservative Popular Party(PP) swept to its first absolute majority in the lower house of parliament.

Aznar will not be a candidate in the next elections.

Instead, he will be replaced by the head of the PP party, Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy, who has been an experienced head of the party for many years, is seen as a “safe pair of hands” and is expected to win.

The main opposition party is the social-democratic PSOE party, headed by  Jose Luis Zapatero.

Though he is also an experienced politician, Zapatero is widely seen as lacking any charisma.

Pundits expect his party to lose again, but the result may be close.

The main issue will,  predictably, be  the economy. Though Spain’s economy is still expanding, it has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe with 11 per cent of the workforce out of work.

Two other issues which may prove testing for the Government are its handling of the Iraq war and the Prestige tanker disaster.

Though the capture of Saddam Hussein has helped Aznar’s public standing, more than 80 percent of the Spanish public were said by surveys to be against the invasion of Iraq.

The murder of seven secret service agents in an ambush near Baghdad in November and their subsequent public funerals during a national day of mourning once again focused the country’s attention on the issue.

Aznar’s government was widely seen to have mishandled the Prestige tanker disaster, in which the oil tanker sank off the coast of Galicia in November 2002, spilling 77,000 tonnes of fuel and causing widespread environmental damage.

The World Wildlife Fund warned the spill could damage fishing, tourism and natural habitats for the next decade, at a cost of EUR 5 billion euros ($6.05 billion).

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news