Prime Minister Zapatero set for second term after massive voter turnout

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The Socialist Party secretary, José Blanco, last night claimed victory in Sunday's general election, a result that would give Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero a second term in office.

10 March 2008

MADRID - The Socialist Party secretary, José Blanco, last night claimed victory in Sunday's general election, a result that would give Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero a second term in office.

Shortly after polling stations closed at 8pm, all the exit polls for the general election pointed to a Socialist victory, with the gap between the incumbent party and the PP ranging between 11 and 26 congressional seats. Three of the four polls had the PSOE near an absolute majority of 176 seats, up from its current 164, predicting a more convincing win than had been expected.

At press time, with 56 percent of votes counted, PSOE was set to win 171 seats, with the PP on 150 - just three more than it won when losing power in 2004. The United Left (IU) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) looked set to be the big losers, with half as many seats as last term.

A new party with an anti-regional nationalist programme led by former Socialist Rosa Díez, Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD), appeared set to obtain a seat in Congress, while the Basque nationalists of PNV and the Catalan nationalists of CiU looked like they would keep their seven and 10 seats, respectively.

Turnout figures at the polls were high throughout the day, generally lagging slightly behind the extremely high figures of 2004, an election which took place three days after the 11 March terrorist bomb attacks in which 191 people died. All parties urged voters to again turn out in force as a response to the murder of a former politician in the Basque Country by ETA on Friday.

The final turnout figure was expected to be around 74 percent, four percent down on four years ago.

Historically, a higher turnout favours the Socialist Party, which had urged voters to turn out en masse throughout the campaign. Over 35 million Spaniards were eligible to vote yesterday, including 1.2 million living abroad.

In 2004, the Socialists beat the PP by a million votes, representing a 16-seat difference in Congress. As the largest minority, the governing Socialists had to seek support from nationalist parties such as the ERC. In a significant rise from 2004, over 1,100 candidates were running for a seat in Congress, while another 1,220 fought for one of 208 Senate seats, an increase of around 30 percent in both cases. Another marked difference was a 75 percent increase in the number of female candidates, the result of new legislation aimed at gender equality in politics. Many, however, were relegated to the bottom of their party lists, where they were unlikely to secure a seat.

In any event, the 10th elections to Congress and the Senate in Spain's modern democratic era will be remembered for the polarisation and fiercely partisan politics displayed during the race for office.

Immigration, the economy and terrorism were the main focus of the campaign, while others such as health, corruption or constitutional reform - once considered "hot" issues - were conspicuously absent from both main candidates' speeches and their head-to-head televised debates in the two weeks prior to the vote. Instead, both Zapatero and Rajoy focused on the economic downturn by embarking on a race to offer voters the most money, either directly or indirectly. Besides promising higher pensions, family subsidies and all sorts of assistance in the repayment of home loans, Zapatero directly promised EUR 400 to every citizen in tax breaks, while Rajoy said he will eliminate personal income tax altogether for people who earn less than EUR 16,000 a year.

[Copyright EL PAÍS/ SUSANA URRA 2008]

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