SPANISH ELECTION III – Lucha roja, ola azul

On 20 November Spain will hold a general election. This blog will cover it live from Madrid. This is the third preview post on this mid-economic crisis European election. (For the first build-up article, click here, and for the second, click here)

Lucha roja, ola azul (Red fight, blue wave)

The people are ready to have their say once more. Portugal and Ireland have already voted but the two most recent electoral changes, in Italy and Greece, were undemocratic appointments of ‘national-unity’, technocratic governments.

PSOE campaign publicity on La Castellana boulevard in Madrid

A detailed poll earlier in the month by the national Centre for Sociological Research predicted the Spanish conservatives winning 190-195 seats, with about 46% of the vote. The party in government, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, PSOE), has accused the Partido Popular (Popular Party, PP) of triumphalism. The poll forecast 116-121 seats for the PSOE (about 29% of the vote). They and their prime ministerial candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, know they are on the back foot and have chosen the election slogan:

“Pelea por lo que quieres” (Fight for what you want)

But should the PP and their leader, Mariano Rajoy, win, they will face the difficulties of trying to implement untasty austerity measures and any celebration at a possible landslide victory will be tempered pretty quickly by looking at the state of the country they would now head.

One in nine households has nobody working and the October unemployment figures showed 4.3m people out-of-work, the worst results for the months for 15 years. Spain’s borrowing rates are edging towards the Irish and Greek default limit. Speaking to young Madrid residents there was a sense of anxiety over what Mr Rajoy might do to Spain should his party win the 180 seats necessary for an absolute majority on Sunday. One Galician girl told me:

“I don’t like Zapatero [the outgoing PSOE prime minister] but Rajoy scares me”.

It seems that the winner’s hands will be tied for a good while by the constraints of the eurozone crisis. The PP have told us to:

“Súmate al cambio” (Join the change)

PP campaign publicity on La Castellana boulevard in Madrid

but with the single currency’s woes far from over, weak economic growth forecasts and austerity measures on the menu, the return to power for the PP after seven years in opposition will be announced not with champagne, but with strict sips from a poisoned chalice.

For live updates throughout the election weekend from Madrid: @cullennews

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Policing the protests

As this blog noted at the start of October, (see ‘Europeans having to swallow some tough medicine – 09/10/10’) an autumn of strikes and public protests was just beginning in Europe. Italy, the UK and Greece have borne the full force of mass demonstrations and France and Spain have suffered large-scale strikes.

On Wednesday 22 December, more protests went ahead in Rome with demonstrators campaigning against cuts to the education budget. There have been nationwide demonstrations across Italy since November in response to the new education bill.

Students are up in arms, as they have been in Britain.The recent student demonstrations across the Channel were a reaction to the coalition government’s decision to raise the upper-limit of tuition fees which universities can charge from £3,000 to £9,000. Greece has also seen widespread protests; reactions to the economic austerity measures announced by Athens.

But eyebrows have been raised over the way that the police have managed the protests. Tear gas has been used in Greece to disperse the protestors and the UK has employed water cannon before in Northern Ireland. The tactic of ‘kettling’ was controversial. The police have a hard enough job to do already, but over-zealous baton-wielding has sparked a number of inquiries. In Italy there has been fierce parliamentary debate over the idea of preventative arrests of possible trouble-makers.

With Spain and Portugal not entirely economically secure yet, and after a year of intense pressure for the eurozone, internal departments in governments across the continent will have to investigate their chosen methods of dealing with protestors. As education budget cuts, austerity measures, pension reforms and the effects of weak currencies bite, strikes and widespread demonstrations will continue. Many of the campaigners have declared war on their respective governments; the police must be ready and prepared to uphold the peace.