El Economist estima que Zapatero, “acorralado”, está precipitando algo parecido a un “declive socialista”, cuando el PP estaría saliendo de su “proceso autodestructor”, abandonando (¿?) su “retórica apocalíptica”…
The Economist, Jun 6th 2007. ETA ends its ceasefire – Zapatero at bay
HAS the shine come off Spain’s prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero? After two of his worst weeks since coming to power in March 2004, he looks vulnerable. On May 27th his Socialists fell behind the opposition People’s Party (PP) in local elections, notably in Madrid, where anti-Zapatero feeling runs high. An even more crushing blow fell on Wednesday June 6th when ETA, the Basque separatists, went back to the business of violence, after formally calling off its ceasefire of over 14 months (already fractured after it had killed two victims in a car-bomb at Madrid airport in December).
The idea that Mr Zapatero might not win a new term in the election due next March was, until recently, absurd. The PP went into self-destruct mode after 2004. Its apocalyptic rhetoric over everything from gay marriage to Catalan autonomy scared many centrist voters. But the PP has recently calmed down. In place of angry conspiracy theories linking ETA to the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, it now says it will trust the courts to decide. Talk of Spain being torn apart by devolution has subsided as judges consider if the new Catalan autonomy charter breaches the constitution.
There is a new air of calm confidence about the PP. Its leader, Mariano Rajoy, registered his first country-wide victory at the local elections: wafer-thin, with 35.6% of the vote against 34.9% for the Socialists, but still a win. In the election in March 2004, he saw a healthy lead in the opinion polls evaporate after his party mishandled the aftermath of the train bombings that shattered Madrid three days earlier. The PP has since trailed the Socialists in opinion polls. Yet for the past two decades, the winner of local elections has always won the subsequent general election.
The Socialists’ decline is largely attributable to Mr Zapatero himself. He hand-picked the candidate for mayor of Madrid (his former economic adviser, Miguel Sebastián, who performed disastrously). Socialist malcontents complain that the ETA peace process, another personal initiative, put off the voters. Will Mr Rajoy now crow over Mr Zapatero’s failure to secure peace in the Basque country? Yet although many in the PP will rejoice both at Mr Zapatero’s discomfort and at the demise of a peace process they always hated, public glee might be counterproductive. Responsibility for calling off the ceasefire lies firmly with ETA. But voters know that Mr Zapatero’s hands were partly tied by Mr Rajoy’s refusal to back him, and call instead for ETA’s unconditional surrender.
Spain now needs its democratic parties to re-form an anti-ETA alliance that fell apart at the end of the 1990s. That would mean getting the powerful, but moderate, Basque Nationalist Party to sit at the same table as the PP. The nationalists, who backed peace, will not want their efforts publicly mocked. Nor will voters warm to the sight of the PP making political capital out of the renewed violence that is now likely. How to deal with a rearmed and, possibly, re-energised ETA (which stole 350 pistols from a French arms depot last October) will now be a big issue for the next election.
With Spain’s housing boom slowing and the constitutional court considering striking out bits of the Catalan charter, Mr Zapatero has few other vote-winners. The court now trying 29 people accused of the Madrid train bombings, which looks set to rule out any conspiracy theories, may help. But more wrong moves in the next nine months, or a prolonged outbreak of ETA violence, could spell disaster.