A New Landscape

A political earthquake has shaken Spain. For the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, the Partido Popular (PP), the conservative party led by President José María Aznar, has won a strong majority in parliament. The PP received 44 percent of the vote in the March 12 election, easily surpassing the  Socialist Workers Party of Spain (PSOE), which took only 34 percent.

The PP’s victory is a sign of a major political shift in Spain over the past 20 years, says an editorial in Barcelona’s centrist La Vanguardia (March 14). Until now, Aznar’s 1996 presidential win could be dismissed as temporary in a country whose population was believed to lean toward the left. But this time, the center-right took more than half a million votes away from the PSOE.

The factors behind the PP victory are more economic than political, says La Vanguardia. Spain has gained more than 1.8 million new jobs in the past four years, has reduced unemployment, and has had an economic growth rate of 3.7 percent, the highest in the European Union.

Unexpectedly, Spain’s ethnic nationalists in Catalonia and the northern Basque country went to the polls in record numbers. And many of them voted for the PP.

Under the leadership of  former Prime Minister Felipe González (1982-96), the PSOE was Spain’s most influential party. But the party failed in its bid to take a bigger part of the vote by allying with the United Left party, writes La Vanguardia’s Baltasar Porcel. PSOE leader Joaquín Almunia has resigned and called for a party convention in July.

The outlook for labor and immigrants now appears bleak. Aznar has announced that he will tighten the laws against immigrants, writes Javier Casqueiro in Madrid’s liberal El País (March 14). [For more on immigrants in Spain, see page 42.]

In Madrid’s financial Cinco Días (March 22), Julián Ariza Rico projects that, with the conservatives’ lock on power, labor unions will have a tough time negotiating better deals for their membership in the coming period. “Now that it has an absolute majority and the leftist parties are weakened,” says Ariza, the Aznar administration no longer will make labor’s interests a priority.