Socialists win second term as Spain's ruling party

Monday, March 10, 2008

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain and leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party.
Mariano Rajoy, leader of the People's Party.

In the 2008 Spanish general election held on Sunday, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) has emerged as the winner for the second election in a row, edging out the more conservative People's Party in a vote characterized by fears of a faltering economy and militant separatists.

With 93 percent of ballots counted, the Socialists, led by incumbent Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had 43.8 percent of the vote, while the People's Party, headed by former Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy, had 40.2 percent.

The Socialists are projected to win at least 168 of the 350 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, falling short of an absolute majority, which means they may have to rely on the backing of smaller parties to pass important legislation. The People's Party is projected to win at least 154 seats.

"I have called the candidate of the Socialist Party and I have wished him luck for the good of Spain," Rajoy said in his concession speech.

I will govern for all, but thinking above all of those who don't have it all.

—José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

"Thanks to all the citizens who have participated," Zapatero said after his challenger conceded. "And thanks from my heart to the citizens who have, with their votes, given a clear victory to the Socialist Party."

"We have worked hard, and it's been worth the trouble," he added. "I will govern by improving the things we did well and correcting our mistakes," he added.

The economy was a large focus of the election, with the unemployment rate rising and inflation at a 12 year high. To ease concerns about the economy, Zapatero said action would be taken to help construction workers that had been laid off, and he promised a 400 euro ($615) tax cut for all workers. "I will govern for all, but thinking above all of those who don't have it all," Zapatero said.

On March 7, one day prior to the end of the official campaigning period, former Socialist politician Isaias Carrasco was shot to death in Spain's Basque region. Zapatero blamed the murder on the ETA, a Basque separatist organization. "We know that ETA is defeated by democracy and repudiated by the Spanish people together and by Basque Society," said Zapatero. "Its members have no other future than jail."

At Carrasco's funeral Saturday, his daughter called for a massive voter turnout as a way of condemning the ETA. The turnout was estimated to be around 75 percent, close to the record 75.66 percent in the 2004 elections. The newspaper El País commented, "Some are already beginning to put out the idea that a bigger Socialist win than predicted by the opinion polls will be due to the killing of Isaias Carrasco."

The killing drew comparisons to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people three days before the general election in which Zapatero came to power. The conservative government initially placed the blame on the ETA, despite evidence that the attack was done by Islamic extremists angered by Spain's involvement in the Iraq War. One of Zapatero's first acts as Prime Minister was withdrawing troops from Iraq.

During the campaign, Rajoy often criticized his Socialist rival for not doing enough to prevent terrorism and negotiate with the ETA. Zapatero's failed peace talks with the ETA, which ended with the separatists setting off a car bomb at a Madrid airport, became a highly debated issue in the election.

In his 4 years as president, Zapatero's government has enacted social reforms that include legalizing gay marriage, allowing for quicker divorces, and promoting gender equality. These policies conflicted with the views of the Roman Catholic Church, and in December, Catholics staged a mass protest against the government in Madrid.