Young Spain turns away from the Left
|While centre-right Partido Popular won 0,5 million votes in the Spanish election, the parties of the Left lost 3 million votes, and the Socialists did their worst election for 21 years. A large part of the explanation is the young voters - they see the policies of the centre-right as the policies of the new Internet jobs. Here an analysis from the Financial Times.
Appeal of left collapses as young Spaniards turn right
By David White - 13 Mar 2000 21:59GMT
"Adiós, Aznar, adiós," cried Joaquín Almunia, Spanish Socialist leader, at the close of his final general election rally. Sunday's ballot was indeed a goodbye between him and José María Aznar, the centre-right prime minister. But it turned out to be Mr Almunia who was leaving.
Mr Alumnia resigned his post in the early hours of Monday morning, as the scale of the Socialists' defeat became clear, leaving the party that governed Spain for almost 14 years up to 1996, and plunging the party into leaderless crisis.
For Mr Aznar the election was an incontestable triumph. It showed not only his success in managing a minority government up to now, but also answered doubts about his capability at the polls.
With the Popular party now holding unexpected majorities in both the congress and the senate, Mr Aznar now has a free hand for another four years. This will allow his government to undertake changes it might otherwise have had trouble with - going ahead, for example with plans to tighten a recent immigration law, or extending competition in the natural gas industry, previously considered a preserve of his Catalan parliamentary allies.
The election, which gave his party a lead more than twice as big as opinion polls were predicting, was partly a story of changing attitudes among younger voters. The right in Spain has been stigmatised since the country emerged in the mid-1970s from four decades of dictatorship. But more than half of today's Spanish voters have reached voting age under democracy.
Mr Aznar has achieved the first outright majority by a centre-right party. He even passed the record 10m votes which Felipe González won in a Socialist landslide 18 years ago (when the Spanish electorate was less than 27m compared with 34m today).
But, more than the centre-right's advance, the election told the tale of the left's collapse. While the PP added more than 500,000 votes compared with four years ago, Socialists and Communists together lost 3m. The Communist-led United Left, reduced by break-away splinter factions, saw its support cut by half. The PP vote exceeded all left-wing contenders combined.
Time and again in recent elections, the Socialist had surged late in the day, but not this time. Their 34 per cent share of the vote, over 10 points behind the PP, was their lowest for 21 years.
A big part of the left-wing vote was lost through abstention, which rose from 23 to 30 per cent. By contrast, the PP succeeded in bringing out its voters. Not expecting a majority, many were keen to make it less of a hostage to regionalist parties.
The PP swept most of the country, taking the lead everywhere except Catalonia, the coastal Basque provinces and a shrinking part of Andalucia, where the Socialists held their ground in simultaneous regional elections. In all those regions the PP fared better than before. And Extremadura, a long-standing Socialist stronghold, switched to the PP for the first time.
For Mr Almunia, the defeat has ended two and a half turbulent years as Socialist leader. Filling the gap when Mr González suddenly left, he tried to legitimise his position, staging a primary election to be candidate for prime minister. He lost to José Borrell, another former minister with a sharper left-wing edge. When Mr Borrell withdrew last year, Mr Almunia took over as candidate.
A party congress now has to be arranged in the next few months in the search for a new-generation leader capable of rebuilding the party's appeal.
Mr Aznar's victory also opens the succession issue in the PP, since he has said he will not stand for the premiership again after a second term. Rodrigo Rato, finance minister in the outgoing government, is at 51 very much in the picture.
Election placards being taken down from Madrid lampposts yesterday had Mr Aznar's photograph on one side and Mr Rato's on the other. The reverse of Mr Almunia's portrait was a blank space.
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