Dawn of a new era

15th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

Spain has a new Socialist government after a startling victory in the general election. In the wake of the extraordinary events of the past few days, Graham Keeley looks at why Spaniards opted for change — and what this means for the country.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: set to withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq

As Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero woke Monday morning to the realisation that he is Spain's new prime minister, he can have few illusions that his victory was due, ironically, to the terrorists behind the atrocity in Madrid.
The shock election triumph which ousted José María Aznar's Popular Party from power was an angry reaction to the way the government handled the crisis and the deeper reasons why Spain became a target.
Aznar's insistence that ETA was the chief suspect behind the attacks, which left 200 dead and more than 1,400 injured, seemed transparent to many Spaniards; they believed if he admitted the massacre was the work of Al-Qaeda, it would reflect badly on his drive to support the US-led invasion of Iraq and the Bush administration.
There was a popular feeling Aznar would try to hide the whole truth about the attacks at least until Monday, after the election, which his own Popular Party had for some time been expected to win.

In one of the most dramatic elections of the post-Franco era, voters turned on the ruling party, convinced that the Madrid was Spain's September 11.

*quote1*Angry demonstrators, who gathered outside the offices of the Popular Party Saturday to protest at the government's handling of this national disaster, were symbolic of an underlying distrust of the ruling party. 

"Spain has never voted in such a tragic situation. There's a feeling of anguish, sadness, horror," said Joaquin Leguina, a former president of Madrid's regional government

Election polls only a week before the election gave the Popular Party an absolute majority. This had narrowed even before last Thursday's bomb attacks in Madrid, Zapatero's victory will have left many stunned. 

Spain's healthy, growing economy was the single factor which pundits believed would hand the Popular Party back the reigns of power despite disquiet over Iraq, the Prestige oil disaster in Galicia and frictions with the regions.


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