Elections and the emotions involved March 7, 2008Posted by Emily in Spain.
Spain will vote for a new president this Sunday, March 9th. Additionally, people will vote for representatives for provincial governments. The presidential election is between Mariano Rajoy, from PP (pronounced “pay-pay,” the conservative Partido Popular) and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the current president who’s up for reelection. His party is PSOE (“pay-soy,” it’s socialist).
Unlike in the U.S., the parties choose their candidates, so this is the first say the Spanish people have had in four years, when the last (rather controversial) election was held. There’s been no real talk that I’ve picked up of vice presidential candidates, despite common chatter that the current VP, a woman, is the person really running the country.
I’m a bit fascinated by politics here, even as I sometimes struggle to understand them. Spain is not a two-party country, as advertisements for the fringe parties are sure to reiterate. Córdoba’s mayor is Communist. Andalucía has a strong Izquierda Unida presence and is generally more left-leaning (the same guy from PSOE has been in charge since Franco died…25 years or so). In País Vasco and Cataluña, two northern provinces with separatist desires (in the case of País Vasco, also sometimes called Euskadi, its Basque name) or leanings (in the case of Cataluña, where Barcelona is), nationalist parties play a big role. PNV (Partido National Vasco) has a lot of power, some might say even on a national scale. Each candidate is sure to reiterate that the other’s relationship with PNV, Catalán parties, ETA, and other aspects of separatism reflects a bigger picture–Rajoy states that Zapatero’s willingness to communicate shows he’s soft on terrorism, while Zapatero says Rajoy doesn’t accept the reality of a multifaceted Spain. Within the presidential discourse, the treatment of language by each of the candidates frames their ideas about a lot of other issues, chief among them immigration and ideas about what modern Spain is like or should be like. When Franco was in power, languages like Catalán and Euskara were outlawed, and now Rajoy speaks out against schools in Cataluña teaching Catalán as their chief language, while the webpage for Zapatero offers his greetings in Euskara (Basque), Galego (from Galicia in the NW), Catalán, French, Arabic, and English, in addition to Spanish. When someone is very derecha (from the right), they are sometimes referred to as facha…a pejorative term coming from fascista (fascist) and referring to Spain’s not so distant history of franquismo. Some of the far-left parties, including Izquierda Unida and Partido Comunista, often use the Republican flag (those who fought against Franco and his Falange in the Civil War) in their propaganda. The way you vote says a lot about you, your family history, your take on the last hundred years of history. It’s complicated in a different way than in the States, I think.
But just as voting says a lot about a person, so does not voting. Among people I know in the States, few don’t vote. Sure, we miss some of the smaller local elections on occasion, especially voting absentee. We don’t necessarily all consider ourselves really political. But when it comes to the big ones, we’re there. Sometimes we even wait in line for it. But here, I have been amazed by how many people are refusing to vote for one reason or another. There are those who feel unaffected, those who dislike both candidates, those who didn’t get around to getting their absentee ballots in on time and don’t want to travel home. But there are also a lot of people who vote en blanco–they leave the ballot blank as a means of protest–and others who don’t vote because they say they don’t want to participate in a system they find undemocratic. There’s a sense that the national elections don’t reflect Spain’s diversity as the provincial elections do.
PSOE recognizes that the people who don’t vote are mostly more left-leaning. They recognize that the more conservative supporters of PP are not those refusing to vote or voting en blanco. So they came out with this advertisement, which made me a little teary the first time I saw it (shhh…don’t tell. Sort of like getting teary over a Hallmark commerical). So many people are going home to their pueblos this weekend to vote…the normal procession from my neighborhood to the train and bus stations, a symphony of rolling wheels over Spanish tiles, has been amplified this afternoon. I’m going to Arcos de la Frontera, home of my roommate Alma, so she can cast her vote on Sunday. This commercial shows a young guy going home to his pueblo to help his mom get to the polls. He asks her, “Are you going to vote like you always do?” (inferring for PP) and she says “Of course, son.” He’s voting PSOE. And then comes one of Zapatero’s catch phrases–Vota con todo tus fuerzas. It’s fascinating to me, a commercial for one political party that shows someone voting against them, but it’s also an interesting way of saying the young people, people willing to change, are voting Socialist. Anyway, it’s precious.
This election is also interesting because there were two televised debates between the presidential candidates and at least a few between other Ministry candidates, a new phenomenon in Spain. For weeks, all of the television stations covered the planning, the building of the set, exactly who would arrive first, who would talk first. But I found the first debate frustrating and annoying, as did a lot of people, because it was a lot of saying how bad the other guy was, a lot of talking at the same time and not respecting the rules of the debate process. It seemed really unprofessional and so I missed the second one. But it also generated a lot of debate within Spanish culture–about the fact that debating isn’t taught here, about the bipolar nature of a two party election, ideas about conflict. It’s been worthwhile in other ways. Just as some think television ended the chance of an unattractive person getting elected US President, the debate brought out some difference here with politicians. Rajoy has a really serious lisp, even by Spanish standards. Listening to him drives me crazy, even when I tune out what he actually says. The PSOE Minister of Economy has a bad eye–this does not affect his intelligence or ability to balance Spain’s books, but it would make him an unlikely political figure within US culture. We are fickle creatures.
The last election, four years ago, followed days of marches throughout Spain in the days after the bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004. When the president at the time, Aznár, tried to point the finger at ETA for the bombings and not Al-Qaeda (who ended up being responsible), people were outraged. On March 14, the people voted and Zapatero, who had been an underdog, won the election. Not long after, Spain pulled its troops out of Iraq. Zapatero has made some big changes in the past few years, especially in regards to women’s rights. He appointed an equal number of men and women to his cabinet. He oversaw the creation of Spanish Courts for Violence Against Women and toughened domestic abuse laws. In 2005, Spain legalized same-sex marriages. At the same time, he tried (and failed) to negotiate with ETA. The cost of living is getting a little out of hand, everyone is always talking about their hipotecas (mortgages), and the government doesn’t seem to know what to do about immigration.
Rajoy paints a picture of a Spain that is becoming unrecognizable. I’ve seen posters that say “Unemployment! Crime! Immigration! Enough already! This is not Spain.” During the first debate, Rajoy ended with a (now much mocked) allegory about una niña española, a girl whose life would reflect the Spain he envisions, who is able to grow and get educated and afford to continue living here. It was a speech worth studying, even if people are making fun of “la niña de Rajoy.”
I’ve been snapping pics around town of some of the advertisements for the various candidates. Kind of interesting, even just from a graphic design standard.
And so, come Sunday, I’ll be able to pull myself away a bit and will start paying more attention to US politics. There’s always something new to read, more states swaying the votes one way or another. Recently, the most common question I’ve been getting is, “OK, but when do you people actually VOTE?” Compared to the sprint here, our elections seem painfully drawn out and incomprehensible…and that’s before I mention anything like the electoral college.