Cablegate: Spain: March 2008 General Election Primer

DE RUEHMD #0038/01 0151431
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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary: President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of
the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and Mariano Rajoy
of the Popular Party (PP) will face off March 9, 2008, in a
rematch of their 2004 contest. In other reporting we examine
the candidates, parties, issues, and polls. Here we attempt
to explain the mechanics of a Spanish general election. End

Election Day

2. (U) The Spanish general election will be held Sunday,
March 9, 2008. Officially, campaigning begins February 22
and ends March 8 (to allow a day of national reflection
before the vote). Unofficially, the parties and candidates
have been hard at it for months. At stake are all 350 seats
in the Congress of Deputies (Congress) and all 208 elected
seats in the Senate; another 56 Senate seats are filled by
appointments by the governments of Spain's 17 autonomous
communities (autonomous communities, equivalent to our
states, are the first tier political divisions in Spain).
The new Congress will in turn select a new President (the
Senate plays no role). Each of Spain's 50 provinces is
entitled to a minimum of two seats in Congress. The Moroccan
enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla each have one seat. The
remaining 248 seats are allocated among the 50 provinces
based on population. Seats are assigned in each province by
the D'Hondt method (proportional representation). Barring
some unforeseeable complication, election results should be
known by midnight.

3. (U) Voters (any Spanish citizen over 18 years of age and
listed on the census -- there is no registration requirement
-- roughly 35 million people) cast ballots not for an
individual but for a party list in each province. The
candidates on the lists are selected by the parties and
placed on the list in rank order. If the party wins one seat
in that province, the first person on their list gets the
seat. If the party wins two seats, then numbers one and two
on the list receive the seats, and so on. There is no
residency requirement to appear on a provincial list. A
great deal of gamesmanship goes into deciding on which
provincial list to place a party's most appealing
politicians. Likewise, there can be intra-party strife as
rivals try to push each other off the lists, down the lists,
or onto a list in a province deemed unsafe for that party.

4. (U) Candidates are forbidden from buying advertising until
the final two weeks before the election. Some free air time
will be provided in those two weeks. In the meantime, the
parties are focusing on earned media, public events, and
internet. Campaign finance is regulated in Spain although
critics say enforcement is lax.

Parties and Candidates

5. (U) In addition to the PSOE and PP, other parties with
some hope of winning congressional seats will field
candidates. (Note: There are far more parties registered
and likely to present candidates, but most are not viable.
For example, there is one whose entire platform is banning
bullfighting. End note.) The small parties in a position to
win seats are: the Basque National Party (PNV); the
Convergence and Union Party (CiU - Catalonia); the Republican
Left of Catalonia (ERC); the United Left (IU); the Canary
Coalition (CC); the Galician National Block (BNG); the
Aragonese Junta (CHA); the Union, Progress, and Democracy
Party (UPD); the Basque social democrats (EA); and the
Navarra/Basque party (Na-Bai). None of them has a chance of
winning the presidency; their significance comes in the
likely event that neither the PSOE or the PP win an absolute
majority and thus they have to wheel and deal to make their
man President.

Forming a New Government

6. (U) The President of the government is chosen by the new
Congress which will be elected March 9. Within 25 days
following the March 9 election the new Congress is formed.
Within 15 days of Congress being formed, it must hold its
first session. The King formally proposes Presidential
candidates to the Congress, but he does so on the basis of
the election results and any coalition building that follows.
The proposed candidates for President must present their
programs to Congress (normally a mere formality), and the new
President is then elected by an absolute majority of those

MADRID 00000038 002 OF 002

voting (176 votes, assuming all 350 Congressmen vote). In
theory, if no one obtains an absolute majority, a President
may be elected by simple majority, but this has never
happened. Instead, if no party wins 176 seats in the
election, wheeling and dealing will result in someone putting
together the necessary 176 votes. By way of historical
reference, in 2004, the PSOE won 164 seats, the PP 148, CiU
(the main Catalan party) ten, ERC (another Catalan party)
eight, the PNV (the main Basque party) seven, the IU (far
left) five, and smaller parties a total of eight. The PSOE
combined with ERC and IU to add 13 to their total of 164 and
make Zapatero President. In the extremely unlikely event the
Congress could not chose a new President, the King could call
for a new general election for the Congress.


7. (U) In 2004, the PSOE beat the PP by 1,260,000 votes (43
vs. 38 percent of the vote). There was 76 percent voter
turnout (turnout in 2000, when the PP won 45 to 34 percent,
was 69 percent). Conventional wisdom says PSOE voters lack
the discipline of PP voters and need strong motivation on
election day. The 2004 upset is often attributed to the
March 11 train bombings (which one study claimed sent an
extra 1.6 million voters to the polls). Some argue the PSOE
must generate participation at or above 70 percent to win.
The PP was heartened by the May 2007 municipal elections in
which it polled slightly ahead of the PSOE, but it may be
misleading to extrapolate too much from the local to the
national scene. While most observers think the crossover
vote potential is small, there is an indeterminate number
(many say roughly a million) of independent or swing voters.

8. (U) The autonomous communities of Andalucia, Catalonia,
Madrid, and Valencia could be pivotal to this election. The
PSOE normally dominates Andalucia (winning 38 seats there to
the PP's 23 in 2004), and by scheduling the regional election
for March 9, the party hopes to keep voter interest and
turnout high. Nevertheless, the PP believes PSOE support is
slowly slipping in Andalucia as the traditionally poor, rural
area becomes more prosperous. Catalonia is unlikely to give
the PP many votes (the PSOE took 21 seats there in 2004 to
the PP's six), all the more so because the PP is campaigning
in part on the claim that the PSOE has yielded too much to
Catalan regionalism. Nevertheless, the Catalans could damage
the PSOE's electoral fortunes by staying home on election
day. A series of embarrassing problems involving public
transportation infrastructure and public utilities has
alienated the Catalan public and may hold down turnout in
Catalonia or strengthen the performance of the home-grown
Catalan parties. The PP hopes to increase its margin in
Madrid where it has a firm grip on the governments of both
the autonomous community and the city (in 2004 the PP took 17
seats to the PSOE's 16). The PP also has high hopes for
Valencia, where in 2004 it won 17 seats to the PSOE's 14.


9. (U) Zapatero and Rajoy will face off twice in nationally
televised debates, February 25 and March 3. It is hard to
predict the effect this could have since such debates are not
inevitable features of Spanish elections. The last one was
in 1993 when Felipe Gonzalez faced Jose Maria Aznar.
Nevertheless, a stellar performance or a bad stumble just
days from the finish line could be significant.


10. (SBU) Polls consistently point to a close race. The
latest one, conducted by Sigma Dos in mid-December, showed
the PSOE at 41.9 percent and the PP at 39.4. While we will
continue to report on the polls, please bear in mind that
Spanish voters may not focus on this race until much closer
to March 9, and hence the polls may not harden until the
second half of February. Moreover, Spanish pollsters have
been wrong before.

11. (SBU) Particularly in a race as close as the polls
suggest this one is, no one should underestimate the
potential for some unexpected event to change outcomes. It
need not be something as dramatic and tragic as the 2004
terrorist attacks. A sudden increase in or loss of
confidence in the economy, an embarrassing debate
performance, or a scandal could radically change the momentum
for one party or the other.

© Scoop Media

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