Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Spain’s PSOE faces a dilemma ahead of the March 2012 general election similar to that which faced the Labour Party in the UK in the run up to last May’s poll.

The socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is trailing in the polls, by nearly ten points in some soundings, behind the opposition centre-right Partido Popular. However an opinion poll says that if Zapatero stood down and was replaced by his popular vice president, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the socialists would retain power with a 6.5 per cent lead.

The poll published on Sunday in the national daily El País showed that 37.1 per cent of those questioned would vote socialist if Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba was leader. The opposition PP would gather just 30.6 per cent of the vote. However if Zapatero stayed at the helm then the PP had a six per cent lead over PSOE.

Rubalcaba was promoted to the first vice president of the government in November with Zapatero hoping it would stem the loss of popularity suffered by the socialists since the financial crisis started in 2008. This has not happened and it would appear voters are disenchanted with the prime minister more than with his party.

The majority of Spaniards accept the country is in a financial mess and that tough measures are required to solve the crisis. However in the spotlight is the public sector along with the employment and pension laws. This has angered the unions as it is not government or town hall employees, the workers or the pensioners who caused the economic mess – yet they are the ones being expected to unjustly pick up the tab. Even so the general strike called last September was hardly a resounding success and the unions seem reluctant to challenge the socialist government knowing all too well that the PP would inflict even more hardship.

This is the ‘Gordon Brown’ moment for the Spanish socialist party. It is arguable that had Labour ditched its beleaguered prime minister it would have won last year’s general election with perhaps David Miliband now in the hot seat. In the event Labour lost, Ed Miliband won the resulting leadership contest sending both Gordon and David into the political wilderness. Some might say David Miliband got his just desserts as had he had the courage to challenge Brown and win then Britain could have been spared four years of devastating Tory – Lib Dem cuts.

Unlike Brown Zapatero says he has made the decision on whether he will lead the party into the 2012 election but has not said what his decision is. However as a two-term winner he will find it less difficult to hand over to a colleague than Brown who flunked the voting test.

These opinion poll findings will add pressure on Zapatero to go with the socialists hoping that Rubalcaba will ride to the rescue. If he does that will leave the PP’s hapless leader, Mariano Rajoy, as a three time loser.

Even José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, despite the PP’s commanding lead, is more popular with voters than the opposition party leader Rajoy. A CIS poll put Zapatero on 3.46 and Rajoy on 3.42 – both behind the CiU’s Josep A Durán I Lleida (3.97) and Rosa Díez (UPyD) 3.89. Zapatero has the confidence of 17 per cent of voters and Rajoy just 15.6 per cent. Rubalcaba seems set to greatly improve on that and could end the PP’s power ambitions and in the process Rajoy’s political career.

(Photo: Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba)

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday January 14, 2011)

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