Wednesday, March 17, 2004

It seems that the pro-administration assessment of the Spanish elections is taking over. The pro-administration assessment is that the victory of the Socialist Party's Zapatero over the incumbent Popular Party member Prime Minister Jose Aznar is more prominently a victory for al Qaeda.

That assessment comes from the idea that the bombings last Thursday in Madrid actually caused the fall of the incumbent party in Spain, thus the terrorists were able to use violence to influence the election. While certainly the effects of the bombing that killed 199 people will be varied and may have even taken some support from Aznar, that does not explain all the circumstances surrounding the elections.

Their view of the elections, and its consequences, fails to take into consideration that the Popular party had only a four point lead ahead of the Socialists, who were already opposed to Spanish involvement in Iraq. While it was believed the Popular Party would win the elections, it was by no means a lock. What many commentators also fail to note is that the bombings initially were claimed by the government to be caused by the ETA, the Basque sepratist group that has been using violence for decades, yet never on such a horrific scale.

It initially looked as if the attack could help boost the chances of the Popular Party retaining their seats. The Popular Party candidate for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had called for a cease in campaigning following the bombing. The incumbent position was also helped by Interior Minister Angel Acebes' assertion that ETA was the culprit, a stance he changed just hours before the election Sunday when he stated that the bombing was carried out by Islamic militants, not Basque sepratists.

The effect of that admission was more than likely the tipping point for what had in a matter of days become a tenuous hold on the incumbency for Anzar. The mass demonstrations on Friday against ETA had, by Saturday, turned into smaller anti-war protests and a growing sense that the Anzar government may not be giving the Spanish people all the information. The population of Spain was overwhelmingly opposed to Spain's involvement in Iraq, a factor that was more than likely offset by continuing economic gains.

Before the Sunday announcement by the Interior Minister Acebes, rumors had been flying that the government no longer believed ETA to be the perpetrators, but was waiting until after the election to make a final announcement. The rumors were bolstered by the arrest of three Morracans and two Indians on Saturday. El Pais reported that the Morracans were believed to have connections to Abu Dahdah, the jailed alleged head of Spanish Al Qaeda.
That same day, a video of man claiming al Qaeda's responsibility was recovered in a trash can near one of the sites.

The slim margin the Popular Party had over the socialists (4%), the overwhelming unpopularity of Spanish involvement in Iraq and perhaps more importantly, the belief that the government was concealing the true perpetrators all contributed to the defeat of the Popular Party.

The bombings may have been the catalyst, but they certainly weren't the cause.

(Much of the information in this came from news reports by Agence France Presse, The Economist and the Observer obtained through Lexis-Nexis).

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