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Viewing cable 04MADRID527, SPANISH ELECTION OUTLOOK: ONE MONTH OUT, POPULAR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04MADRID527 2004-02-13 17:05 2010-12-06 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Madrid
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