With the results of Spain’s regional elections last month showing the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) endure its most dramatic defeat since the 1970s, it is now taken for granted that they will suffer an equal fate in next year’s general election, scheduled for March. Mariano Rajoy, leader of the far-right Popular Party (PP), celebrated a landslide win, meriting a new nickname: “Spain’s next prime minister”.
President Zapatero, having swooped into power on wave of emotion two days after the Madrid bombings, maintained a secure grasp over the public for seven years. But as the country took their first notable step into an economic crisis, the prime minister is now taking the slack and is viewed as incapable of recovering the country.
It is not an unfounded backlash; the leader seemed just as shocked with himself when, in a bid to battle the side effects of the euro, he had to abandon his socialist outlook and put in place the austerity cuts the economy needs. Having started out as a man of the unionists, a voice for the pensioners and a supporter of the students, the dramatic U-turn has antagonised his followers, who have turned to “the man with his head down.”
More than anything, the protests in Madrid signalled a severe restlessness about the country. With no clear manifesto as to what the demonstrations stood for, they were merely a way of showing Zapatero the door in just as dramatic a way as they ushered him in. Rajoy’s popularity signals rather a search for change by the Spanish public than a support for their policies.
Indeed, Rajoy has let on very little, if anything, about his party’s economic policies, and how they intend to control the country’s certainly unstable future. Much like the Tory win here last year, his vague approach to the economy – which appears to be the stem of Zapatero’s downfall – could suppose a similar fate for PP as the Conservatives: not enough support to hold a majority ruling power in government, but enough to switch the man at the top.
The change for which the Spanish yearn will not come about in the next two years. No one knows how this change can come about; austerity cuts are necessary and, to his credit, Zapatero is putting them in. The rise of the right is a peculiar trend plaguing Europe in reaction to the economic crisis. Conservative governments are taking the spotlight as never before as the saviours of a foggy outlook. So far, the gravity of this trend is a difficult one to judge, but with Rajoy’s secretive approach, it looks like a case of the grass being greener on the other side.
Digesting the shock result, Zapatero has rejected calls for an early election, but announced his resignation on completion of his second term in office, and declared his support for Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, current deputy prime minister, to be his successor as leader of the party. Despite acknowledging his own defeat, Zapatero is adamant that this change in the people’s hearts does not have to dictate the outcome of the general elections: “Rubalcaba, a sprinter who was capable of running 100 meters in a little over 10 seconds, is capable of winning an election in 10 months.”
The future of Spain’s left looks bleak against Rajoy, who is predicted to sweep the floor with an absolute majority. But, despite its success so far, Rajoy’s scaremongering technique – joining the people’s voice against the economy, as opposed to proposing reforms – could well turn against him when, once in power, he must pick up the pieces.