PP targets centre ground for 2008 poll

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When Congress breaks for its winter recess the Popular Party will throw itself headlong into campaigning for the general election next March.

10 December 2007

MADRID - When Congress breaks for its winter recess in less than two weeks, Spain's main opposition Popular Party will throw itself headlong into campaigning for the general election next March. But after a legislature in which the conservatives have, in the eyes of many, swung hard to the right, party leader Mariano Rajoy will be seeking to claw back the centre ground in the run-up to election day.

According to party sources, the PP is to drop much of its hardnosed criticism of the Socialist government over issues such as counterterrorism policy and regional devolution that plays so well with the conservative grassroots, opting instead to talk about policies to which most voters are willing to lend an ear - and, the PP hopes, their support.

There are signs that this has already started to happen. Although the issue of how to deal with ETA remains divisive, the murder by the Basque terrorist group of two Spanish Civil Guard officers in southwestern France on 1 December sparked a brief show of political unity. After months as virtually the PP's only talking point, ETA is not expected to be on Rajoy's agenda during the weekly parliamentary debate this Wednesday. Instead, he will focus on the economy - an issue the PP foresees as its main vote-winner.

Opinion polls suggest that the strategy could work. Many of the young people who turned out in massive numbers to vote in Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2004 have grown increasingly disgruntled. While salaries remain low, inflation has risen sharply and mortgage payments - for those who have managed to buy a home - have become a major burden. Rajoy has promised to eliminate income tax for all low earners.

Hardliners sidelined
However, the PP's biggest strategy success ahead of the election may well be symbolic rather than practical. The campaign will centre squarely on Rajoy, a politician who, though still not exactly popular, inspires less reticence among voters than the PP's respective number two and number three: Secretary General Ángel Acebes and Congress Spokesman Eduardo Zaplana.

In the place of the two hardliners, the PP campaign will feature  moderate voices, among them campaign chief Pío García Escudero and campaign coordinator Juan Costa.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ CARLOS E. CUÉ 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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