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Cablegate: Spain's United Left (Iu) Party: A Declining Force

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




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Note: This message was planned prior to the March 11
terrorist attacks in Madrid as a feature of Embassy's advance
reporting on Spain's March 14 elections. It provides a
snapshot of the United Left Party, one of Spain's smaller,
but still significant political parties. End note.

2. (SBU) Summary: The grouping of communist and
communist-leaning parties, the United Left, finds itself
still playing a role in national elections this year, but its
influence has been trending down since 1996, and there are
some who foresee its eventual disappearance from the national
scene. If the Spanish Socialists get within striking
distance of forming a coalition government, the IU will
definitely be supportive, but differences between the IU and
the Socialists continue to rule out full coordination to
unseat the PP. End summary.

History of the United Left

3. (SBU) The United Left (IU) is an electoral coalition that
was organized in 1986. Its dominant member is the Communist
Party of Spain (PCE), and other partners include radical
socialists, greens, and supporters of Spain's old Republic of
the 1930s. The PCE participated alone in the 1977 and 1979
elections, winning 9.4 percent (20 seats) and 10.8 percent
(23 seats) of the vote, respectively. After a miserable
showing in 1982 that left it without representation, it
emerged again (reorganized under the United Left coalition)
in 1989 to win 9.1 percent (17 seats). The IU vote grew
slightly in both the 1993 and 1996 elections, reaching 10.5
percent of the vote (21 seats) in 1996. In the 2000 election
Popular Party (PP) landslide, the IU fell to its current 8
Congressional seats, winning just 5.4 percent of the vote.

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When Socialism's Not Left Enough
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4. (SBU) While they share many leftist viewpoints, divisions
run deep between the IU and the Spanish Socialist Party
(PSOE). The PCE originally broke with the PSOE due to
ideological differences in the early 1920's. In general
terms, the IU views the PSOE as a centrist party, not
leftist, claiming that the PSOE is too closely wed to
capitalism, market-based economics and other
"non-progressive" policies. While not communists in the full
Marxist-Leninist sense (the IU advocates democracy and does
not oppose private property, in fact it supports creating a
"right to private property for all"), the IU does still seek
a "non-capitalist" economic model that would give a greater
role to the public sector and better redistribute wealth.

5. (SBU) The IU agrees with the PSOE agenda on such issues as
increased spending on social programs, education and
environmental protection. On foreign policy, they agree with
the PSOE on making Spanish relations with the European Union
primary to any trans-Atlantic relationship with the US, and
in opposing Spanish military involvement in Iraq. However,
the IU advocates other positions that are radically left of
the PSOE, such as terminating military basing rights for US
forces, holding a resolution to determine if Spain should
leave NATO, rejecting the EU common position towards Cuba,
and more actively supporting the Palestinian cause by
suspending the EU Association Agreement with Israel.

Role and Future of the IU

6. (SBU) While under Spain's system of proportional
representation in Congress, there would be a great advantage
for the IU and PSOE to run as a combined electoral coalition
of the left (see reftel), neither party has been willing to
team together since the period leading to the Spanish Civil
War. Poloff spoke to Fernando Vallespin, a political science
professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid who has ties
to the PSOE, and Vallespin said that such a grouping would
likely scare off moderate PSOE voters to such a degree that
it would negate the benefit of running a combined slate.

7. (SBU) Spain's proportional representation system
under-represents the votes of the small parties, giving them
a lower percentage of Congressional seats compared to the
true percentage of votes they receive. Hence, if the only
goal was to unseat the conservative PP government, leftist
votes would be better used if they went for the much larger
PSOE. This fact has not been lost on the PSOE, who have
campaigned this election for left-wing votes under the slogan
of "Voto Util" (which can be translated as "Useful Vote" or
"Vote that Matters"), trying to convince far-left voters not
to diminish anti-conservative voting power by voting for the
smaller IU. The PSOE leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero,
has also stated that the Socialist will not attempt to form a
government if they do not win more votes than the PP. While
few believe that the PSOE would pass up a chance to form a
coalition with smaller parties if the opportunity presented
itself, the statement is seen as another measure to tempt IU
voters to
vote for the PSOE. The IU has aggressively fought back
against the "Voto Util" campaign, with the party's leader,
Gaspar Llamazares, calling the PSOE slogan repugnant and
against democratic ideals of pluralism. Llamazares has also
derided Zapatero as trying to change Spain's parliamentary
system into an American-style two-party system with his
threat to not form a coalition government if the PSOE comes
in second.

8. (SBU) Professor Vallespin states that in essence, the IU
vote is a protest vote, and electoral calculations have never
been a primary concern to its voters. Given that much of the
far-left disdains the PSOE as a "centrist party", and the
fact that IU leaders cherish their independence and have
actively sought to energize their base with the need for a
"true left" agenda, he did not believe that IU voters would
be swayed to vote Socialist in significant numbers.

9. (SBU) With polls showing that the IU should retain a share
in Congress close to its current eight seats, the IU could
play a role in forming a coalition government with the PSOE
should the PP falter. They also make up coalition PSOE-IU
governments in some of Spain's autonomous regions, with the
IU's strongholds being Andalucia (the mayor of the major city
Cordoba is IU), Asturias, Madrid, Valencia and the Basque
region. That said, the IU vote has been trending downward
since 1996, and there are some who forecast its eventual
demise as a national presence.

10. (SBU) Juan Diez-Nicolas, President of ASEP, a prestigious
polling and sociological studies firm, told Poloff that their
forecasts see the IU as a dying force. He believes that
there will always be an anti-establishment protest vote,
especially among students and labor groups, but that with
Spain's economic gains and movement towards a more
service-oriented economy, this protest vote could likely sink
below the three-percent threshold to receive seats in
Congress. Professor Vallespin stated that he agrees that the
IU may disappear, as a part of the IU's vote has been linked
to families with ties to the Spanish Republic of the 1930s.
With very few elderly voters who actually participated in the
Republic surviving, these ties are getting stretched,
according to Vallespin, as grandchildren and
great-grandchildren feel less personal association to the
Communist and old Republic movements. The IU had been hoping
to draw in a whole new generation of supporters from the
millions of Spaniards who protested against the war in Iraq
and the Aznar government's support of US policies. However,
the huge anti-war protests did not translate into an increase
in support for the IU in the regional elections of May 2003,
with the IU actually losing seats in the regional races. If
this anti-war vote does not materialize for the IU in this
national election, their hopes of regaining their old
prominence may be lost.

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