Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero finally threw in the towel and announced elections for November 20, the anniversary of the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
The date was meant as a dig at the opposition Popular Party that has denounced Francoism and is a fully democratic party. Its political antecedents go back to the nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War and Zapatero, who dredged up old rivalries while prime minister, will not allow them to forget it.
According to the polls, this will not suffice to prevent the Popular Party and its leader Mariano Rajoy from replacing the socialists in power. Neither will the uptick in employment statistics following the tourist season.
If the Popular Party wins, it will temporarily create a situation where in every major European capital power is in the hands of the center-right.
In the end, following the crushing defeat that the Socialists sustained in last May’s regional elections, Prime Minister Zapatero decided that “certainty is stability”.
Since there is a real danger that Spain is going to get sucked into the debt crisis and possibly even bring down the euro with it, is better to get a new and hopefully stable government rather than continue with the death throes of the current one.
Mariano Rajoy, if the polls are to be believed, is poised to become the new prime minister. He is considered to be totally lacking in charisma, but it should be recalled that the previous Popular Party Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, elected in 1996 ending 15 years of socialist rule, was once described as resembling a middle level clerk.
The “clerk” proved successful enough to handily win reelection in 2000. Rajoy, too, might surprise.
Rajoy has previously announced that he will come into office with an economic shock plan that will center on making the labor code more flexible, making hiring new workers less risky to employers who will also be encouraged by tax cuts.
Unemployment is the key issue in Spain and Rajoy will attempt to reduce it. At the same time, Rajoy whose party has traditionally taken a more centralized approach to Spanish government, as opposed to the socialist acquiescence towards devolution of powers to the regions, will cut spending by the regional governments.
In this manner he hopes to assure investors of Spain’s intentions to get its economic house in order. The austerity policy is likely to provoke strikes, but Rajoy is counting on the maturity of Spanish public opinion that realizes the need for belt tightening following a spending binge.
While under Rajoy, Spain will not go back to the strong pro-American policies of former Popular Party PM Aznar (who was recently in Israel to announce his solidarity with Israel and show her that she was not alone).
He can be expected to change Spanish policy that was too forgiving of leftist dictators such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.
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