Interpreting Spain’s Election Results

By now virtually everyone must know the results of the Spanish elections. I suppose the real questions people are asking involve how to interpret them. I would advise against jumping to hasty conclusions here. I picked up one comment on Crooked Timber to the effect that:

“anybody who decided to vote Socialist after the bombings presumably expected that the Socialists would reverse the government?s Iraq policy and do less in the war on terror than the government was likely to do.?

I think this view is a mistake, and doesn’t reveal much understanding about the dynamic of Spainsh politics over the last decade.

In the first place this type of argument is ridiculous. Anyone who was actively ?anti-war? – the people carrying the ?paz? placards – was already going to vote PSOE well before the bombing happened. Now the PSOE won because a lot of people who previously weren’t going to vote PSOE decided to do so.

So what changed? Well what actually seems to have happened was that a lot of former PSOE voters who had been abstaining since the Gonzalez corruption scandals went back and voted. It was the high level of participation that gave PSOE the victory.

It is not plausible that all these people were suddenly looking for a radical and dramatic change in Spains external policy. Any who were will, in any event, be disappointed. Rodriguez Sabbatero is totally pragmatic.

I think to understand what happened you need to go back to the Prestige and other similar issues. These voters were tired of having the feeling they were being lied to. In fact, while the PP definitely placed excessive emphasis on Eta (a mistake anyone could have made, eg I did too), there is no real evidence of any active attempt to mislead people during the last week. What happened was that in the critical moment they reaped the whirlwind they had sown on previous occasions.

I don?t think there is any evidence whatsoever that most Spaniards want a ?softer? policy on terrorism. Quite the contrary, they want a more effective one. One which is less focused on scoring political points: either internally or externally.

I am surprised no-one here has mentioned Spain?s relations with Morocco. This is important. The difference between full blown OBL Al Qaeda, and North African Islamic Jihad may seem like an excessively subtle one to many, but it could be important. (See Collounsbury’s important comment in this regard here, and his blog in general).

Rather than simply concentrating on the invasion of Iraq, you might like to think about the ?re-invasion? of Perejil. You might like to think about the daily tragedy of the ?Pateros? and how this is seen in Morocco. You might like to think about the impact of the anti Moroccan riots in El Ejido a couple of years ago, and how the Mosque was violated, the Koran torn up and urinated on. You might like to think about a lot of things.

Clearly the fanatics who carry out this and other atrocities are unlikely to be swayed one way or the other by such issues. Maybe, however, those young people who form the recruiting ground for the next generation of terrorists will be. We need an anti-terrorism policy which has two fronts.

In this regard there is plenty to welcome about what is happening in Spain. In the first place the response inside Spain to the probable Moroccan connection has not been as negative for the community of Moroccan immigrants as might have been expected.

Spain is a society of contradictions, and this is just one of them. Of course there have been plenty of cases of minor incidents, but on the whole there is no ‘reaction’ against the Moroccan community.

Reading yesterdays election results is a complicated matter. On the whole I am not pessimistic internally. In particular the new government will have doing something about the situation of Spain’s 2 million plus illegal immigrants somewhere high up the agenda.

The fact that to date there is no evidence connecting Eta with the bombing means that moving toward a more definitive solution of some of Spain’s internal divisions may now be possible, the incoming government is committed to a process of structural reform.

On external policy I wouldn’t expect any dramatic change, the difference are likely to be more on the level of style and presentation. The Al Qaeda link puts important questions on the table for the whole of Europe, not just for Spain. So I see a Spain which is now more anchored in the bosom of an EU which is more focused on the question of how to combat this kind of international terrorism, and who knows, possibly a Europe and a United States who are now more together. Would this be too much to ask?

On these pages we have had considerable debate about the question of Turkish membership of the EU. But remember behind Turkey comes the issue of Morroco, and in this area I don’t rule anything out completely. Despite all the attention focused on the Iraq war question, I see much of this as looking to the past. We have to think of the present situation in Iraq, as Frans says the bombings in Karbala, the way to end the violence there, we have to look to a more coherent all EU approach, to a better climate of coordinated relations with the United States, in sum, to a much more effective anti terrorism policy. To end on a positive note: I sense we may have a Spain which is now more open to active dialogue with Morocco. At least I certainly I hope so.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Governments and parties, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

25 thoughts on “Interpreting Spain’s Election Results

  1. What lesson will AQ draw from this? PP 5 points ahead the day before the attack; AQ announces the bombings were punishment for Anzar’s policies; Anzar government falls.

    AQ is probably not as nuanced as you seem to be–more’s the pity.

    October in America will be a tough month. I just hope that this time we don’t have casualties by the thousands; by the hundreds they are a bit easier to bear.

  2. If you’re such an expert, why can’t you even spell the name of the man who won yesterday?

  3. “What lesson will AQ draw from this? PP 5 points ahead the day before the attack; AQ announces the bombings were punishment for Anzar’s policies; Anzar government falls.”

    I don’t think we should try to be schoolmasters for Al Qaeda. They can draw the lessons they see fit. What I am interested in is the battle against terrorism, and the battle for the hearts and minds of the Moroccan population.

    “by the hundreds they are a bit easier to bear”.

    Thank you for your condolences.

    BTW the name is Aznar.

  4. Ooops, I need to be careful:

    “Spain’s contingent of troops in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq may be withdrawn by June 30, Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was cited as telling a radio station today, according to Agence France-Presse.

    “The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster,” Zapatero, 43, was cited by AFP as saying. He said the Spanish troops would be pull out by the June 30 date for the handover of power to Iraqis if the situation in Iraq doesn’t improve, AFP said without providing details.”

    I obviously would oppose any withdrawal of Spanish troops, I think what we need are more troops, not less, and a UN platform.

    Pulling out either US or Spanish or British troops before there is stable government would obviously highly irresponsible. I hope neither Bush nor Zapatero are seriously thinking of doing any such thing.

    I think here one more time that the truth may need to be looked for in the details. Let’s wait for some clarification. Whatever Zapatero says, I am convinced the extra people voted for him despite these declarations (which anyway are obviously meant for people inside his party). These kind of statements are why before last Thursday he wasn’t winning the elections. If he actually said this like this you could say he was an opportunist, I would probably agree. But to go from this to saying that the Spanish voters are cowards is a long and unjustified leap.

    BTW I didn’t vote for him, in fact I didn’t vote for anyone. In Spain there is no viable centre party: this is one of the problems here. If you are a nationalist you vote PP (Spanish) or CiU or ERC (Catalan) or PNV (Basque), if you are socialist you vote PSOE, if you are communist you vote IU, and if you are none of these things? Who do you vote for?

  5. I think it is indeed very callous and foolish as well to abuse the Spanish electorate. As Edward points out, the election caused an unsually high turnout. Also, voters possibly concentrated their votes, in the sense that the main parties received a higher percentage of the votes. This would be the reverse of what happened in France, 2002, when the left split their vote; the French left got more votes, but by a statistical anomaly, Jospin received a pip fewer than LePen.

    As a Yank, I feel mortified by the abuse heaped on the newly bereaved Spanish. Haciento mucho! You guys, grow up and show some sensitivity! Just because some people don’t agree with you doesn’t mean they’re “cowards”!

  6. Thanks James.

    You know two or three US soldiers are dying every day in Iraq. I hope no-one would ever dream of accusing those US citizens from Bush to Kerry of being cowards. We are all suffering.

    On Zapatero, I said the truth is in the details. What he apparently said was:

    “El m?ximo dirigente del PSOE asegur? que las tropas de Espa?a saldr?n de Irak antes de finales de junio si la ONU no se hace cargo de la situaci?n.”

    This is from BBC World Service.

    For those who don’t speak spanish, he qualifies the statement with “if the UN do not take responsibility for the situation”. You can then read this as you want, which is probably the intention. Really at the moment he is not commiting himself to anything. This is obvious, he has to negotiate and form a government. He has no absolute majority.

    He also said:

    “Mi prioridad inmediata es combatir toda forma de terrorismo”,

    Which reads my immediate priority is to combat all forms of terrorism. I don’t think he is about to make too many concessions to Al Qaeda. We’ll see what the end result is.

  7. On Zapatero, I said the truth is in the details. What he apparently said was…
    Edward & James, thank you for your voices of sanity. Unfortunately details do not sell well, it has to be either black or white, nothing in between. The fight against terrorism is a little bit more complicated then participating in the war in Iraq (were the Spanish also lost lives, BTW).

  8. The pundits are currently saying that the centre-right were punished for trying to make political capital out of the bombing by blaming it on ETA without waiting for any actual, you know, detective work.

    Whichever, the people on the streets last week very clearly saw this bombing as an attack on the democracy they (and the previous generation) worked so hard to bring to Spain, rather than an attack on the Spanish nation. This gives me hope that the Spanish won’t act out of pure revenge, but will work to defeat terrorism at its ideological roots, unlike, say, that big nation across the Atlantic.

  9. James: This is not a time to prance around with diplomatic niceties. Thinking only of themselves, the Spanish electorate made a huge mistake which will have wide repercussions throughout the western world. They should rightfully be taken to task for it.

    Thanks to the Spanish electorate, we are all less safe from terrorism, because the terrorists have clear evidence that terror works.

  10. As best I can judge, many Europeans will have problems understanding all the head banging going on. There is a straight foward explanation:

    The general European view is that the Bush administration really doesn’t understand what it has got itself into with its Neocon unilateralism and pre-emptive strikes. The Iraq war was a big mistake and more likely to stoke terrorism on a global scale than constrain it. There were no proven operational links between Saddam’s regime in Iraq and al-Qaeda because he had good peronal reasons to be cautious least al-Qaeda subvert his self-serving despotism in Iraq in much the way that the Taliban, with al-Qaeda, had gained ascendancy in Afghanistan over the established warlords there.

    People round the world can read the web: the account from Paul O’Neill (Bush’s first Treasury Secretary) about the Bush administration starting to plan the Iraq war on coming into office in January 2001, months before 9-11, only confirms instinctive suspicions about American motives. By Kerry’s account, many world leaders are hoping for an administration change in November’s US presidential but it could be that the leadership of al-Qaeda wants Bush to stay as president because he is good for its morale and for winning hearts and minds to its cause in the Islamic world. Bush and the Neocons are easier to caricature and demonise than Kerry.

    All the reports I’ve seen of polls in mainland Europe on the Iraq war report majorities opposing engagement in the war, even in countries like Spain, Italy and Poland where the respective governments subscribed to Bush’s Coalition of the Willing. The additional factor in Spain’s election was the instant blaming of ETA for the terrible atrocity in Madrid in what was regarded as self-serving election spin by Aznar’s government, an interpretation supported by the emerging early indications of an al-Qaeda link with the bombings.

    Further instructive insights come from a recent survey, reported in The Times, of the views of teenagers in Britain:

    “Teenagers? views on government were equally traditional. Two thirds said they preferred the ‘Royal Family and Parliament’ to a ‘presidential system’. Most, however did not believe that the Prince of Wales would make a good king, with 71 per cent thinking the crown should pass straight to Prince William. They have a strong sense of right and wrong too, with 76 per cent saying the war with Iraq was wrong and 82 per cent saying they distrusted Tony Blair.” – from: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1033293,00.html

    The Bush administration and its spinners online really do need to read the political entrails with greater care and more detachment before casting slurs on the Spanish people.

  11. The single most notorious difference between this election and the previous one in Spain is the turnout. So the point that last week’s events didn’t necessarily change people’s voting choices is well taken.

    The discontent that the Spanish population still has with the scandals of past socialist administrations is in fact strong enough to have prevented PSOE from attaining an absolute majority on congress, despite the well known fact that Aznar’s support of Cheney’s war on terror is profoundly unpopular in Spain. In fact, the degree of unpopularity of Aznar’s servilism is quite disproportionate to the results of the elections.

    I am hopeful that the withdrawal of Spanish troops in Iraq won’t have any other effect than the obvious symbolic one, although I do perceive it to be a problematic move by the new government, given the instability in Iraq.

    As for ETA, I insist on speculating that it has no institutional involvement in the attack. It is not like ETA to decline responsibility for attacks, and it is in fact quite interesting how quickly ETA has rejected the accusations. True that ETA’s involvement would have benefitted the PP bid for reelection, and that it was not in the best interest of ETA for the PP to get reelected. But the conspiracy theory according to which ETA produced this attack with the express intention of blaming Al Qaeda–so as to have the PP lose the elections–smacks of Hollywood nonsense to me.

    Pedro.

  12. “Thanks to the Spanish electorate, we are all less safe from terrorism, because the terrorists have clear evidence that terror works.”

    This argument has to be flawed somewhere doesn’t it? I mean are people saying that if we show it doesn’t work they will pack up their bags and go home? How do we know what criteria of ‘work’ these terrorists use, and how do you know it is the same one you use. Maybe OBL thought his terrorism worked the day we entered Iraq. Who knows. And if he did, does that mean we shouldn’t have gone there in case he thought it worked.

    Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about what the terrorists think of what we do, and more analysing how they operate.

    The only way to stop these people is to go after them and put them in prison on the one hand, and win the hearts and minds of the next round of people who could otherwise be persuaded to join them on the other.

  13. “The only way to stop these people is to go after them and put them in prison on the one hand, and win the hearts and minds of the next round of people who could otherwise be persuaded to join them on the other.”

    I’m sorry Edward, that is incredibly naive. The only way to stop these people is to change the societies they come from. And, since most of them come from non-democratic, patriarchal, quasi-fascist societies incapable of internal reform, the reform has to come from the outside.

    The US “neo-con” strategy of transforming islamofascist societies by forcing democracy upon them – with Iraq being the test case – is the most boldly radical and innovative foreign policy initiative America has ever taken.

    It remains to be seen if it will be a success. Though we can be sure that European media will never, ever, characterize it as a success, even if the results are positive.

  14. RSN,

    the boldly radical and ‘innovative’ foreign policy initiative America has ever taken is furthering the cause of fascism in the societies you mention. It is incredibly naive to think that the political engineering of the US over a collection of societies–that it understands from ‘above’ and not from within–, will be any more successful than the multiple failures of social engineering of the XX century and of colonialism before.

    (The patriarchal model of Western military intervention is certainly not immune to criticism, despite your best efforts to make it look like the biggest invention since the wheel.)

    I favor an approach to foreign policy that–far from constructing the others as inferior simpletons in need for paternalistic intervention–strengthens the viability of supranational institutions for conflict resolution.

    The point is quite simple, really. Authoritarian models don’t work and the rise and triumph of the democratic model of nationhood is a testament to this. By extension, authoritarian models of international policy will not work. We don’t need a supranational dictator by the glorious name of USA, but rather a democracy of nations (however imperfect) or something of that sort. I’m absolutely convinced that the ideal such institution would have little to do with the current UN, and I am willing to take strong shots at the latter, but I am not willing to submit to the belief that it is the US that ought to take it upon itself to dictate to the world how it ought to govern itself locally.

  15. One more thing, regarding the much used parental metaphor according to which one must never give terrorists the impression that their methods ‘work’. The only way that this ‘message’ would be forcefully conveyed is if everyone would subscribe to that way of thinking about world politics, but the reality is quite different, and it is profoundly naive–once again–to presume that everyone will align themselves with this supposed ‘pedagogical’ position. There’s always going to be thoughtful people who can see the benefit of fighting terror as if there were no issues to negotiate, and of concurrently engaging with the appropriate parties–not the terrorists themselves–on the root issues that fuel terrorism in the first place.

  16. “The US “neo-con” strategy of transforming islamofascist societies by forcing democracy upon them – with Iraq being the test case – is the most boldly radical and innovative foreign policy initiative America has ever taken.

    Do you really think you can change a society that is +2000 years old? and why do you have the right to do so? why dont you ask yourself what America did to them to draw their terrorist attacks? why not change america?

  17. Jorge: 2000+ years old? How well do you know your history of Islam? The Prophet Mohammed lived way later….

    As to the ease of changing their societies, I have no doubt that a democracy based on market capitalism will be the model that appeals to those who don’t have it. The proof is in the masses of illegal immigrants clamoring to get into one.

    And in terms of the right to change their society, the right was given us on 9/11. End of argument.

    Pedro: De-colonization has been a disaster in some parts of the world. It is time to intervene in failed societies and put their house in order, simply because they’re a threat to the rest of us. Whether this is done by direct intervention, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, or by future UN trusteeship, is open for question. But we certainly have a right to do it, that is clear.

    We did it with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, to great positive effect. If we took action without permission in those cases, we can certainly do it again.

  18. ? Jorge: 2000+ years old? How well do you know your history of Islam? The Prophet Mohammed lived way later….?

    RSN – Sorry for the confusion, I wasn’t trying to be accurate, just stating that their culture is way too old to change. I believe that even if you are able to install any other form of government, there will always be 3% of fanatics that will destroy any positive change in the region and punish whoever implemented it.

    “We did it with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, to great positive effect. If we took action without permission in those cases, we can certainly do it again”

    Afghanistan and Iraq were unable to control regions within their own borders! How do they represent a treat to surrounding nations like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did?

    Terrorism you has no borders, it?s a moving target ? you can?t control it! You might be able to minimize it, but I believe that effort starts at home and with lots of ACCURATE intelligence.

    Do you believe the US has done any progress in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are you better of? Or would have been better if the put the +$300 billion (I don?t not the exact figure) at home? I would like to see what you think about Iraq, please post your comments.

  19. Hey,
    I’m your average Yankee,I got my 10 gallon hat and lasso, etc. And I am also affronted with the innately bias American media. (after all, it was our preemptive strike). New York Times has headlines such as “Who won the election? Socialists or al-Quadia”, critisizing the Spanish electorate. I would imagine that the results were a byproduct of democracy: 90% of Spain was opposed to their involvement in Iraq.

    Nonetheless, the bombing gave US-Spanish relations a black eye, by painting the Spaniards as cowards. Yet, one piece of evidence isnt really shining through these red/white/blue lens filters is that the bombing displays the impotancy of the war on Iraq as a strike against the war on terror.

    With Bush’s polarized outlook that all terrorists, all arabs, all rogue governments are on the same team; it is hard for americans to swallow the fact that the Morrocans have a completely unrelated organization.

    Plus, Spain was founded on violence and oppression: the 30 years war, the colonization of america, the inquisition, fancisco franco’s fascist regime. Is it right to say that the Spanish government had it coming?

    I mean, Dali was a fascist, and Goya was Spain’s greatest artist.

    So what am i trying to say? Oh yeah. Provide me with more evidence: polls, opinions, articles, that would help me get to the bottom of this.
    Cus, i’ll admit, the only reason i’m concerned about Spanish Politics is because of the bombing.

  20. Plus, Spain was founded on violence and oppression: the 30 years war, the colonization of america, the inquisition, fancisco franco’s fascist regime. Is it right to say that the Spanish government had it coming?

    I mean, Dali was a fascist, and Goya was Spain’s greatest artist.

    Oh yes, Spain definitely had it coming. Almost as much as America, between the expulsion of Loyalists after independence, the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow, the crushing of Filipino independence, and so on. The indiscriminate mass murder of civilians completely uninvolved in these crimes is a perfectly legitimate response–don’t you think that the US deserved 9/11?

    Idiot.

  21. Plus, Spain was founded on violence and oppression: the 30 years war, the colonization of america, the inquisition, fancisco franco’s fascist regime. Is it right to say that the Spanish government had it coming?

    About as right to say that the American government had 9/11 coming to it. (The expulsion of the Loyalists following independence, the Trail of Tears, the conquest of half of Mexico, Jim Crow, the suppression of Filipino independence … And that’s only the first century or so of American independence.)

    I’m sure you’d agree that, in criticizing the historical past sins of a state, there’s nothing like massacring hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians.

  22. And in case people didn’t get that last post, that was intended to be sarcastic. I’m fed up with the attitudes of some Americans that only the lives of people in those countries which support the US matter.

    If you don’t think that the lives of the two hundred Madrlie?os murdered by al-Qaeda count because the Spanish electorate turned against the PP, or that their deaths is payback for the sins of political regimes dead and buried, fine. Just don’t protest when al-Qaeda holds the US to the same abysmal moral standards.

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