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Cablegate: Spain: Election Update February 15

VZCZCXRO1035
RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHMD #0177/01 0461758
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151758Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4280
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 3304

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MADRID 000177

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SP
SUBJECT: SPAIN: ELECTION UPDATE FEBRUARY 15

REF: A. MADRID 171
B. MADRID 151 AND PREVIOUS

MADRID 00000177 001.2 OF 004


1. (SBU) Summary: Popular Party (PP) candidate Mariano Rajoy
appears to be making a play for working class voters with
messages on the economy (ref a), immigration, and public
security. Some polls suggest voter participation may be
slipping; virtually everyone agrees low turnout hurts
President Zapatero and the socialists (PSOE) more than the
PP. However, it appears most Spaniards still expect a PSOE
victory. In electoral terms, we still have a long way to go
until March 9, and this race remains too close to call. End
summary.

Immigration
-----------

2. (U) Rajoy has taken a page from Sarkozy's book, saying
immigrants should be required to sign an integration contract
in which they commit to respect the customs, laws, and
culture of Spain; learn the language; pay taxes; and work or
leave Spain. In return the government would guarantee them
equal rights to Spaniards and assistance in finding a job or
help in returning to their countries of origin if they could
not find work. Parties of the left and pro-immigrant groups
were quick to brand the proposal as extremist and
discriminatory. A PP official also suggested the party would
support banning the use of the veil in schools and public
buildings as a way of fighting discrimination against women.
There are about 4.5 million immigrants registered in Spain
(roughly 10 percent of the population). The PP predicts that
number will grow to eight million by 2025 if current trends
continue. Minister of Interior Rubalcaba said the PP
proposals had a whiff of xenophobia about them. Zapatero
apologized to immigrant women for the PP's "discriminatory
offenses" and in an agitated tone told a rally he would never
remain silent in the face of right-wing opponents who were
angry, xenophobic, macho, and homophobic.

Public Security
---------------

3. (U) Rajoy unveiled February 11 a package of public
security proposals including 30,000 new police, improved
public security infrastructure, a tougher penal code,
streamlined criminal trial procedures, and stricter parole
conditions. Getting the most attention so far are his
proposals to reduce the age at which a youth can face
criminal charges (for serious offenses and recidivists) from
14 to 12 years, to increase penalties for serious offenders
aged 16 to 18, and to toughen detention conditions for
juvenile offenders. Rubalcaba was quick to point out that
under the previous PP government, there were fewer police,
less spending on public security, and a higher murder rate.
He described Rajoy has having been the worst Minister of
Interior in the history of Spanish democracy. Left of center
daily El Pais tried to undercut Rajoy's public security and
immigration proposals by reporting they were conceived by
Javier Fernandez Lasquetty, a close associate of former
President Aznar (Aznar remains the man the left loves to
hate).

Polls Remain Tight
------------------

4. (U) Extrapolating from relatively small nationwide
telephone polls to the results in each of 52 congressional
races can be misleading. Also, Spanish pollsters generally
do not limit themselves to "likely voters," and they process
the raw results by weighing the responses to various
questions about party preference, positives or negatives of
particular candidates, etc. With those caveats, a poll
conducted by Metroscopia and published February 3 in the
leftist daily El Pais showed the PSOE with 42 percent to the
PP's 38.6 percent. Sixty percent expected the PSOE to win
while only 18 percent expected a PP victory. Voter
participation was predicted at 73-74 percent (it was 77.4
percent in the 2004 general election). Of those who said
they voted for the PP last time, 77.3 percent said they would
do so again versus 66.5 percent for the PSOE. Ranked from
zero to ten, Zapatero got a 5.7 approval rating to Rajoy's
4.6. The "would never vote for" number for the PP was 40
percent; for the PSOE, it was 14 percent. Respondents
overall put themselves at 4.8 on a scale from left (zero) to
right (ten). Respondents put the PSOE at 4.3 on the same
scale, but placed the PP at 7.0. Although 38 percent of
respondents thought the overall condition of the country was
good, 45 percent thought the economy was bad or very bad, 41
percent said it was going to get worse, and those polled had

MADRID 00000177 002.2 OF 004


greater confidence in the ability of the PP than the PSOE to
reactivate the economy (43 percent to 37 percent). The poll
was based on 2,000 telephone interviews conducted nationwide
between January 26-30. The margin of error was plus or minus
2.2 percent.

5. (U) A "flash" poll conducted by Metroscopia and published
by El Pais February 10 showed the PSOE with 41.7 percent to
the PP's 38.8. Fifty five percent thought the PSOE was most
likely to win in March while only 17 percent said the PP was
likely to do so. Of those who said they voted for the PP
last time, 73.6 percent said they would do so again versus
64.1 percent for the PSOE. Ranked from zero to ten, Zapatero
got a 5.5 approval rating to Rajoy's 4.4. On Rajoy's
immigration proposals 56 percent chose good or very good. On
Zapatero's 400 euro tax rebate, 69 percent chose good or very
good. On the Spanish economy, 50 percent said it was bad or
very bad, and 43 percent said their personal economic
situation was good or very good. Zapatero got an approval
rating of 5.5 to Rajoy's 4.4. The slight overall improvement
in the PP's numbers was attributed by the pollsters to the
pessimism on the economy. This poll was based on 600
telephone interviews of eligible voters conducted nationwide
February 8. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.1
percent.

6. (SBU) Both of these polls suggest PP voters are more loyal
than PSOE voters, substantiating the conventional wisdom that
low turnout favors the PP. Most observers say the PSOE
enters the danger zone around 70 percent (no one can say with
exactitude); as turnout drops below that point, the PSOE runs
an increasing risk of winning the polls and losing the
election.

7. (SBU) A poll conducted by Sigma Dos and published by right
of center El Mundo February 11-12 showed 69.7 percent of
respondents thought Zapatero would reopen talks with ETA in a
second term (something Zapatero denied in a February 11 TV
interview). Nevertheless, Zapatero got better marks for
being able to handle ETA than Rajoy (36.0 versus 32.9 percent
- in a January Sigma Dos poll Rajoy got higher marks than
Zapatero). The poll showed 51.7 percent thought the
country's economic situation would get worse. 79.7 percent
thought Zapatero's 400 euro tax rebate was a measure to gain
votes. However, Zapatero's Minister of Economy Pedro Solbes
still got the highest marks for public confidence in his
ability to handle the economy (36.9 percent to 23.4 percent
for the PP's Manuel Pizarro). 82.5 percent agreed that the
study of Spanish throughout the country should be guaranteed
by law (language is a controversial topic as it relates to
the Basque Country and Catalonia). This poll was based on
1,000 telephone interviews of adults conducted nationwide
February 4-7. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.16
percent. We will report them for the sake of trends that
might emerge, but these Sigma Dos polls in El Mundo merit
caution. Although the results do not always favor Rajoy, a
number of the questions seem to have a partisan slant.

8. (U) A poll conducted by IPSOS and published by
conservative economic newspaper Expansion February 11 gave
the PSOE 41.1 percent and the PP 39.8. It pegged voter
turnout at 69-70 percent. This poll was based on 1,000
telephone interviews of conducted nationwide February 8-10.
No margin of error was given.

9. (SBU) A poll conducted by the Government's Center of
Sociological Investigations (CIS) and released February 15,
offers some interesting, if apparently contradictory,
results. It showed the PSOE getting 40.2 percent of the vote
to the PP's 38.7 percent. Translated into congressional
seats, this means 158-163 seats for the PSOE and 153-157 for
the PP. 72.2 percent said they would vote and 12.9 percent
said they would likely vote. 52.4 percent thought the PSOE
would win while 15.3 percent said it would be the PP. Asked
whether they wanted a different party in power after March 9,
39.8 percent said yes while 36.9 percent said no. More
voters preferred Zapatero as president than Rajoy (50.4
percent to 26.2 percent). This poll was based on 18,221
personal interviews conducted between January 21 and February
4. The margin of error was plus or minus 0.74 percent. CIS
generally gets high marks for its methodology and rigor.

10. (SBU) The tight polls have some people talking about the
possibility that a party could win the largest number of
seats in congress while not capturing the largest number of
votes nationwide. Although always a theoretical possibility
under the 1978 constitution, Spain has never coped with this
reality (Zapatero said (when?) that he would not attempt to
govern if the PSOE found itself winning the most seats but

MADRID 00000177 003.2 OF 004


not the most votes). Another possibility is that a party
which barely wins the most seats cannot come up with the
numbers in congress to form the government (this is perhaps a
greater risk for the PP, which seems to have alienated many
of the smaller parties and is less likely to gain support
from the Basque and Catalan parties because of its views on
regional autonomy). That could open the way to the second
place finisher putting together the necessary coalition and
forming the government. Finally, if nobody can cobble
together the necessary seats after two months of wrangling,
the King would be forced to call new elections. No one is
predicting any of these outcomes, but in a tight race
anything could happen.

11. (SBU) To add one more complication, in a press interview
last September, Zapatero was asked if he held to his 2004
campaign promise not to govern unless he got more votes than
Rajoy. He replied "yes, I am a consistent person ("si, soy
una persona coherente")." The next day, Rajoy made a similar
commitment. If one of these candidates gets one seat more
but one vote less than the other, we might see some
interesting verbal gymnastics ("What I meant to say was...").

12. (SBU) Zapatero had an embarrassing open mike accident
following a February 13 television interview with a friendly
journalist. Not realizing he was on the air, Zapatero
answered a question about the PSOE's private polls saying
they were good, but the most convenient thing for the party
was to maintain the tension. He said after the weekend
(February 16-17) he would begin to "dramatize" a little.
Zapatero was blasted in the conservative press for suggesting
that conflict and partisanship were good for the country. We
took his remarks a little differently. PSOE private polls
have supposedly showed them with a significant lead for some
time, but they are trying (not very effectively) to keep this
under wraps for fear their voters will not turn out on March
if they think this election is in the bag.

Church
------

13. (U) The Zapatero government continued to complain about
statements by the Spanish Episcopal Conference which
implicitly criticized the PSOE. In particular, the
government was upset by criticism of its talks with ETA. The
government even complained to the Vatican about the Spanish
bishops. Press reports suggested the Spanish Ambassador to
the Holy See was politely told by the Vatican Secretary of
State that the bishops were within their rights. Perhaps
calculating that a stand-off with the bishops could be used
to whip up socialist turnout, PSOE Secretary of Organization
Jose Blanco said that after the election, "nothing would be
the same" between church and state. Blanco did not suggest a
change to the 1979 accord between the government and the Holy
See, but he did say the church should take definitive steps
towards becoming self-financing (the Catholic Church
presently receives revenue from the government). Asked about
this a few days later (at an event attended by the Papal
Nuncio), Zapatero said he did not know who had suggested such
a thing. Reminded that it was his campaign manager, he said
the possibility of renegotiating the church-state accords was
always open but it would be done through dialogue and
consensus. A few days later, he seemed to back away further
from confrontation saying the accords could be revised but
that there must be a special relationship with the Catholic
Church. By Valentine's day, it looked as though Zapatero had
decided to kiss and make up, going to dine with the Papal
Nuncio, an event that got wide media coverage. Rajoy used
the controversy to accuse Zapatero of picking fights with the
bishops in order to avoid talking about the worsening
economy. This issue can work at least two ways: the image
of a reactionary Catholic hierarchy trying to turn back the
clock could motivate PSOE voters while the image of the
radical left insulting the Church could make it hard for the
working class faithful to vote PSOE. Without reliable
polling data, we are not yet sure which way it is cutting.

Electoral Lists Official
------------------------

14. (U) The voluminous final electoral lists by province and
party have been published and can be found on Embassy
Madrid's SIPRNET site. Interestingly, there has been some
buzz in Spain provoked by the keen interest here in the U.S.
primaries. Some commentators have noted wistfully the
difference between the fiercely democratic and transparent
candidate selection process in the U.S. and the top-down,
smoke-filled room process Spanish parties use. In addition,
it is predicted that the law requiring gender parity may have

MADRID 00000177 004.2 OF 004


little effect in terms of increasing the number of women in
congress since the parties have put most of the women so far
down the lists they are unlikely to win seats.

Gallardon
---------

15. (U) The story of Madrid Mayor Ruiz-Gallardon's exclusion
from the PP electoral lists never dies. For one reason, the
left-wing media get a chance to bring it up every time
Gallardon and his arch-rival, Autonomous Community of Madrid
President Esperanza Aguirre, both have to show up at a public
event. It also reappeared in the context of a libel suit
filed by Gallardon months ago against a commentator for COPE,
the Spanish Episcopal Conference radio network. Among other
things, the commentator suggested Gallardon was indifferent
to the victims of the Madrid training bombings (this because
Gallardon opposed PP suggestions of a Zapatero government
cover-up). The commentator recently called as defense
witnesses Aguirre and other PP notables known to be
unfriendly to Gallardon. Mercifully for the PP, the trial is
set for May.

Promises
--------

16. (U) Rajoy has promised an integrated law to fight climate
change. Among other things, he said he would plant 500
million trees (the PSOE had promised 45 million), reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and invest
375 million euros annually in a natural resources defense
fund. Rajoy was criticized last year for remarks suggesting
he did not take global warming seriously.

17. (U) Zapatero announced he would extend his subsidy plan
for parents to those making less than 15,000 a year or 20,000
euros in the case of large families. Currently only those
making less than 11,000 euros a year are eligible. The plan
pays 500 euros for each child zero to three years of age and
300 euros for those 3 to 18. The PSOE said this would extend
coverage to an additional 400,000 families. The PP meanwhile
is promising a plan for free dental care.

Debates
-------

18. (U) After some last minute wrangling over venues, the
PSOE and PP appear to have agreed that the February 25 and
March 3 Zapatero-Rajoy debates will go forward.
AGUIRRE

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