by Tito Drago and Alicia Fraerman
(IPS) MADRID -- The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) scored a surprise landslide victory in Sunday's general elections in Spain, contrary to all previous opinion polls, which said the governing Popular Party (PP) would win.
The train blasts Thursday that left a death toll of 200 in Madrid, for which Islamic terrorist groups have claimed responsibility, served as brutal reminders for Spanish voters that the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar gave unconditional support to President George W. Bush in the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, against the will of the vast majority of Spain's population.
"Between reacting to the PP's criticism of the PSOE alliance in Catalonia with Esquerra Republicana and condemning Aznar's alliance with Bush, a majority of citizens chose the latter," said analyst Antonio Casado.
Journalist Jose Oneto, former director of Cambio16 magazine, agreed, saying the big loser in the elections was not PP candidate Mariano Rajoy, but Aznar "for manipulating the information on (Thursday's terror) attacks."
The first words of the future prime minister, PSOE leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the banners showing white hands (a peace sign) and black ribbons (a symbol of mourning) hanging outside PSOE headquarters illustrate just that.
In a brief speech, Rodriguez Zapatero said he would begin to work Monday "for the unity of the political forces against terrorism," and that his will be a government "of calm change."
Before his speech, delivered to journalists and PSOE supporters at the party's headquarters, Rodriguez Zapatero asked everyone to observe a minute of silence in the name of Thursday's victims. He ended his brief address by congratulating Rajoy, describing him as "a worthy rival" and inviting him to "cooperate in the affairs of the state."
The PP was triumphant in the Oct. 26, 2003 elections for the Autonomous Community of Madrid (Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities)
Analysts interpreted that win as a sign that voters had left behind their criticisms of the government's decision to support the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Spain sent troops to take part in the occupation force, and several have been killed or injured.
Five Spanish soldiers and an interpreter were injured in an explosion in Iraq on Feb. 11. On Jan. 22, a commander of the Guardia Civil received a serious head wound and died later in Madrid.
On Nov. 29, 2003, seven agents of Spain's National Intelligence Centre (CNI) were killed in an ambush. On Oct. 9, another CNI member was shot at close range by unknown assailants in Baghdad.
Navy captain Manuel Martin Oar, Spain's first casualty in Iraq, died Aug. 20 from wounds suffered in the car-bomb attack on the United Nations offices in the Iraqi capital.
But the brutality of the 10 explosions that tore through commuter trains during the Thursday morning rush hour, and the growing evidence that the attacks were mounted by radical Islamic groups in reprisal for Aznar's support for the war on Iraq apparently brought about a change of heart among many Spaniards.
In particular, it seemed to mobilize people who were previously indifferent, or did not plan to vote.
Sunday's elections drew the largest turnout -- 10.5 million people -- of any polls held since the restoration of democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled from 1939 to 1975.
Turnout was 9.5 percent higher than that of the previous general elections, held in 2000, in which the conservative PP won an absolute majority of seats in parliament.
The 350-seat Congress, which will appoint the new prime minister, will now be made up of 163 PSOE deputies, 148 from the PP, 11 from Convergencia y Union (CiU, a moderate Catalonian nationalist party), and eight from the Esquerra Republicana (Izquierda Republicana, leftist Catalonian nationalists).
In addition, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EA) won seven seats, the United Left coalition (based on the Communist Party) took five, the Canary Coalition (Canary Islands) will hold three, and the Galician Nationalist Bloc (three), among other minor parties.
Although the PSOE votes in Congress will not give it an absolute majority, the party's leader Rodriguez Zapatero will have the votes necessary to be designated prime minister.
The negotiations that begin Monday among the parties will determine whether he is appointed in the first vote with an absolute majority -- for which he would need support from other political forces -- or in the second vote, with only the support of the socialists, which would give him a simple majority.
Rodriguez Zapatero and his main rival, Rajoy, congratulated each other once the outcome was clear, which points to the start of a good working relationship between the two main parties.
That would contrast with the situation under Aznar, whose government was characterized by its rigidity, lack of dialogue with the opposition and tendency to turn a deaf ear to the massive protests against the invasion of Iraq, before and after it occurred.
That inflexibility was also seen in the run-up to the elections, and especially in the last three days, after the train bombings in Madrid.
Immediately after the attacks, the central government, Basque regional government -- in the hands of the moderate nationalists - and all of the country's political parties blamed the carnage on the Basque terrorist group ETA.
Although evidence pointing to involvement by Islamic terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, was found on Thursday afternoon, the Aznar administration continued to insist that ETA was the prime suspect.
Al Qaeda, the organization headed by fugitive Osama bin Laden, is blamed for the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in which more than 3,000 people died.
Al Qaeda had also threatened to carry out attacks against countries that, like Spain, supported the "war on terrorism" that the Bush administration has been leading since then, with the Iraq war being another chapter in that process.
The explosives used in Thursday's train bombings were not the type that ETA has used in the past.
In an e-mail message sent to several media outlets and published by the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al-Quds Al Arabi, an Al Qaeda brigade claimed responsibility for the Madrid attack.
Police investigators determined that the cellphone detonators found along with Koranic tapes in a stolen van along one of the train routes was not the type normally used by ETA, which has denied it had anything to do with the attack.
A backpack carrying undetonated explosives and a cellphone were found that also repeat the Al Qaeda modus operandi established several months ago against Spanish targets in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.
As the hours went by after the train bombings, the population began to mobilize against the terrorists and in solidarity with the victims, demanding that the government be honest and transparent with the evidence and information arising in the course of the investigations.
In Friday's massive protests in which an estimated 12 million took to the streets throughout Spain, people carried signs against terrorism and some criticized Aznar, both for his alliance with Bush and the apparent manipulation of information arising since the attack.
Saturday was a day charged with tensions. More and more evidence that the perpetrators were Islamic extremists turned many Spaniards against Aznar, as they saw his foreign policy as turning their country into a target of international terrorism.
Spontaneous protests and marches occurred in several cities in Spain, some targeting local PP offices.
March 15, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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