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Cablegate: Spanish Election Outlook: One Month Out, Popular

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 000527

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/WE
NSC FOR VOLKER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2014
TAGS: PREL PGOV SP NATO
SUBJECT: SPANISH ELECTION OUTLOOK: ONE MONTH OUT, POPULAR
PARTY HOLDING ON TO LEAD

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires J. Robert Manzanares,
reasons 1.4(B) and (D).

Summary

1. (C) Polls one month before the March 14 Spanish general
election continue to point to victory for the Popular Party
and Aznar's successor as party leader, Mariano Rajoy. The PP
hopes not just for a plurality, but for an absolute majority.
Were the PP to fall far short of an absolute majority,
coalition formation would prove troublesome. Most polling
consistently shows the PP hovering just short of the absolute
majority threshold. Socialist leader Rodriguez Zapatero has
sought to breathe new life into his campaign by exploiting
the Iraq/WMD controversy, criticizing Aznar for joining the
Iraq coalition. Most analysts believe the Iraq issue will
not be a major factor unless Spain's 1300 troops in Iraq
suffer large casualties. One month before the election, the
outlook is similar to when Rajoy became Aznar's successor
last September: the perception in Spain is that it is Rajoy's
race to lose. End Summary.

Major Party Differences on Relations with the U.S.

2. (SBU) On March 14, Spaniards will go to the polls to
select a new Parliament, which will, in turn, select a new
Prime Minister, known in Spain as "President of the
Government." Polling data and political commentary have, for
the past six months, pointed to a plurality for the PP, led
by Aznar's successor as party leader, Mariano Rajoy. This
trend continues. Most polls show the PP leading by seven or
eight points over the Socialists.

3. (C) Rajoy and Socialist (PSOE) leader Jose Luis
Rodriguez Zapatero offer distinct domestic and foreign policy
choices to the Spanish electorate. Rajoy has pledged to
maintain Aznar's strong ties with the US, including its close
counter-terrorism cooperation and participation in the Iraq
coalition. He also promises to keep Spain's vigorous economy
on track and preserve the integrity of the Spanish state in
the face of nationalist pressures in the Basque and Catalunya
regions.

4. (C) Zapatero, in contrast, pledges to re-focus Spain on
Europe. Zapatero argues that Aznar's tilt to the US has
damaged Spain's standing in the EU, where the Socialists see
their country's future. Zapatero has been a relentless
critic of Aznar's Iraq policy and what he sees as Aznar's
"subservience" to the Bush Administration. Zapatero says he
will establish a transatlantic relationship based on "mutual
respect and friendship," not on submission.

5. (C) Zapatero also strongly criticized Aznar for appearing
before a joint meeting of Congress February 4, saying that
Aznar was willing to go before the US Congress while ignoring
Socialist calls for him to appear before a special session of
the Spanish parliament (in recess because of the elections)
to explain pre-war intelligence on WMD in Iraq. On the
domestic front, Zapatero pledges to increase social spending
for education, health and culture. He has promised not to
raise taxes and says he will pay for these programs by
reducing defense spending.

6. (C) Despite efforts to shift attention again to Iraq,
Zapatero has been unable to turn popular opposition to
Aznar's Iraq policy (which brought millions of Spaniards into
the streets in February and March 2003) into support for his
candidacy. On February 12, Zapatero said that if elected, he
would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq in July if the
mission had not been turned over to the UN by that date.
Zapatero misses no opportunity to call the war "illegal and
immoral" and to denounce Aznar for ignoring Spanish interests
by allying Spain with what Zapatero calls "the most
conservative US Administration in history."

Role of Aznar

7. (C) The manager of the PP's national campaign, Gabriel
Elorriaga (who is also State Secretary for Public
Administration), told us in late January that one of the
major challenges for the PP in the campaign is how to deploy
Aznar. Elorriaga conceded that the PP needs to be careful
not to overshadow Rajoy or antagonize the Socialist ranks and
provoke greater Socialist turnout. Nonetheless, thus far,
and consistent with his personal style, Aznar has been out in
front ) and far more on the attack than Rajoy. On February
10, in a typical jibe, Aznar declared that the Socialists
have no coherent leader or party and are not fit to govern
Spain. He demanded that Zapatero tell Catalan Socialists to
break their coalition with the Catalan Republican ERC, whose
leader, Carod Robira, met with ETA leaders in France in early
January.

8. (C) Zapatero continues to focus his criticism largely on
Aznar, rather than Rajoy. Rajoy's strategists tell us
privately that this suits them just fine because the Iraq
issue in particular is identified with Aznar, rather than
Rajoy. Thus Aznar takes the heat while Rajoy enjoys a
widespread reputation, even among Socialists, as more of a
bridge-builder, with a far less dominating personality than
Aznar.

9. (C) Some in his own party have criticized Rajoy, a
veteran of eight years in key Ministerial portfolios in
Aznar's two governments, for conducting an overly scripted
and risk-averse "rose garden" campaign. Rajoy has resisted
pressure from the Socialists to publicly debate Zapatero, for
example. Others point out, however, that Spaniards vote
according to party lists, not necessarily on personalities --
a key difference between the Spanish and US systems -- and
therefore the lack of a high profile is not necessarily a
negative for Rajoy.

Absolute Majority: the Numbers and Turnout

10. (C) The PP needs 176 seats in the 350-seat Congress of
Deputies (lower house) to form an absolute majority. In
2000, the PP won an absolute majority of 183 seats. In 1996
the PP won 146 seats and formed a coalition government. Some
of the 1996 coalition partners, such as the Basque
Nationalist PNV, would not enter into a coalition with PP
today.

11. (C) PP campaign manager Elorriaga told us he was
confident the PP would win at least 171 seats this time and
said that if the campaign went well, the PP could hope for an
absolute majority, although he conceded this would be
difficult. Elorriaga believed that the 183 seats the PP
received in 2000 represented the PP's electoral ceiling. He
doubted they would reach it in 2004 given the eight years of
PP government and the natural desire of the public for a
change.

12. (C) Should the PP fall four or five seats short of 176,
Elorriaga said they can count on the Canary Coalition (a
regional Canary Islands party) to cover that margin. Beyond
that, coalition formation becomes problematic for the PP.
Most PP analysts believe that CIU, the moderate Catalan
nationalist party (which had 15 seats last legislature),
would be willing to work out a deal with the PP, if it came
to that. However PP strategists are not sure this would
happen and would like to avoid this contingency.

13. (C) PP strategists and other analysts, including
Elorriaga, focused on the issue of voter turnout. Elorriaga
told us that the PP wanted to mobilize its people but avoid
public gloating that could antagonize the Socialists and
mobilize them against the PP. He said polls before the 1993
general election had been favorable for the PP but that the
PP had committed the error of holding large rallies on the
eve of the election that, ironically, mobilized the
socialists against them and helped cost the PP the election.
Elorriaga said that over-confidence was a major danger for
the PP.

The Alternative to a PP Victory: Government of the Left

14. (C) The likely alternative to a PP victory is a
coalition of the Socialists and the Left Union (Communists)
supported by nationalists such as the Basque Nationalist
Party (PNV). Zapatero has stated that he would not seek to
form a government unless the Socialists get the most votes
nationwide. Nonetheless, many analysts believe that if it
came to it, the Socialists would lead such an "anybody but
the PP" coalition. The PSOE sought to do it in the Madrid
region last October and have done it in the Balearic Islands
and elsewhere.

Comment

15. (C) The percepction in Spain is that the March 14
election remains the PP's to lose. Despite polls that show
that a majority of Spaniards favors the idea of a change in
government, the PP has enjoyed a solid lead for months. The
Socialists, as a consequence of their disunity and weak
leadership, have been unable to capitalize on a general
desire for change. However, there are a few wildcards that
have the potential to change the equation. These include
possible large Spanish casualties in Iraq and a possible
backfiring of Rajoy's cautious approach to campaigning and
his unwillingness to debate Zapatero. Nonetheless, as it now
stands, the majority of analysts, including many Socialist
contacts, expect the PP to form the next government. What
they do not agree on is whether the PP will receive an
absolute majority. The polling is inconclusive. If Zapatero
can prevent the PP from gaining an absolute majority ) which
would involve the PP's loss of at least 8 seats ) he might
be able to claim some victory and remain PSOE leader. Should
the PP win an absolute majority, the knives among the
Socialists may well come out for Zapatero. A resounding
PSOE electoral defeat, were it to occur, might well bring
calls for one of the longtime Socialist barons, such as Bono
from Castilla La Mancha or Chavez from Andalusia to come to
the PSOE's rescue.

MANZANARES

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