Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar stunned observers with a landslide win in parliamentary elections held last weekend. The Popular Party victory marks the first time since the death of Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975 that the left has not had a majority in the Spanish Parliament. The outcome is a vote of confidence in Mr. Aznar; it is also a slap at the clumsy tactics of the left.
Mr. Aznar was expected to win, but only by a slim margin. Instead, his Popular Party claimed 183 seats, an outright majority in the 350-seat legislature. His chief nemesis, the Socialist Workers Party, which had governed Spain from 1982 to 1996, lost 16 seats, and the communist United Left’s representatives fell from 21 to eight.
The left’s collapse was attributed to a last-minute alliance between the two parties that upset many voters. The Socialists’ continuing failure to reform since former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez resigned in 1997 also helped Mr. Aznar. That is a warning: Mr. Aznar came to power in the wake of corruption scandals involving the Socialists. They resulted from the complacency and arrogance that comes with long periods of uninterrupted rule. Clearly, Spanish voters are pragmatic. They want results.
Mr. Aznar’s pro-European policies have delivered to date. The Spanish economy recorded 3.7 percent growth in 1999 and unemployment fell from 23 percent to 15 percent. He must continue to modernize the economy and cut state spending.
There is fear that Mr. Aznar’s win will complicate dealings with Basque separatists. He survived an assassination attempt by terrorists in 1995, and a hardline stance was a key plank in his platform. The People Party’s outright majority in Parliament means that it will not need the support of the small regional parties that made his former majority. That could undercut his willingness to deal with the separatists. Mr. Aznar has said that he will still try to work with those smaller parties even though he has a majority. That is encouraging. Mr. Aznar negotiates now from strength. That is good, but he must still negotiate.
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