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Socialist disarray points to heavy local election loss

A recent catalogue of incidents and errors has compounded the governing Socialist Party's problems as it prepares for the May local elections. And with the issue of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's succession providing a drawn-out distraction, the party seems to be heading for a loss that is likely to be repeated on a national level in 2012.


A snowballing corruption scandal in Andalusia; a bizarre electoral list mix-up; a cancelled campaign rally; and a hospitalised minister. The last few days haven’t been good for the Socialist Party (PSOE).

All these developments have been, to varying degrees, bad for the Socialists as they prepare for the May 22 regional and municipal elections across the country. As a result the party has given off an image of rushed improvisation and poor communication, just when a cool head was needed.

The Socialists' best bet for 2012?

The “ERE” scandal is dragging the names of several Andalusian Socialists through the mud, due to their association with a scam which saw the fraudulent doling-out of early retirement payments. While the affair may be confined to a group of nepotistic cronies, it compounds recent speculation that the Socialist Party is heading for electoral disaster in the region. Defeat in the Andalusia municipal elections in May (where there will be no regional vote) would be a crippling blow to it, both in terms of the region’s significance on the electoral map and its symbolic value as a Socialist stronghold. In addition, the ERE scandal gives the Popular Party, itself mired in corruption cases, a chance to return fire at the Socialists on this issue.

A poll published in late February by Metroscopia showed the Popular Party on course for victory in Andalusia. With the PSOE having controlled the region since 1982, if such a result transpired, it would surely sound the death knell for this government in the 2012 general elections.

More solid evidence of Socialist disarray is in the party’s preparations for the May votes. El País reported that with the deadline for the delivery of municipal electoral lists looming, the party’s leadership failed to have them formally ratified, as is the norm. In practical terms this made little difference, but the error can only compound the sense of panic and misgiving in the ranks. And when the party cancelled an April 3 rally in Vistalegre, near Madrid, which had been scheduled to open the Socialist campaign, the suspicion that the Socialists were making their campaign up as they went along became more widespread. The cancellation hinted that perhaps the only strategy being pursued is to keep Zapatero out of sight as much as possible.

“Of course there’s a strategy and when we tell you what it is you’ll understand,” offered Public Works Minister José Blanco, the campaign supervisor, far from than convincingly.

When Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba was hospitalised on March 7, it was the last thing Prime Minister Zapatero needed. Rubalcaba’s ailment was, apparently, a fever caused by a urinary infection and not a heart attack, a tumour or any other of the theories doing the rounds on the blogosphere. But Rubalcaba is for many in the party the only logical choice as candidate in next year’s general elections. Worries about the state of the 59-year-old’s health highlight how conjecture over whether Zapatero will run for a third term in 2012, and if not who will replace him, has become a burden for the Socialist Party.

“Zapatero himself has launched a debate about whether he continues, which has meant an additional erosion of his image, due, logically, to a sense of uncertainty and instability,” noted Temas editor José Félix Tezanos.

Few are now betting on Zapatero seeking a third election win and Rubalcaba is still the clear favourite, ahead of Defence Minister Carme Chacón, to run in his place (see the Iberosphere poll on the home page). But no announcement to that effect has been made publicly, and the Socialist Party seems resigned to limp on towards what is looking like a heavy defeat in the spring elections. One of Zapatero’s main aims behind pushing on with his controversial economic reform program without revealing his future plans was to absorb the blast of popular outrage, thus saving the rest of his party from injury – rather like a soldier leaping on a grenade. But the reality is, the party itself is already being stretchered away before the shelling has even started.

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Published: Mar 18 2011
Category: Politics, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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