Culture Wars Dominate Spanish Elections
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Spain is holding an election on Sunday, and this is a campaign that highlights a country's social divide. The socialist government is ahead in the polls. The opposition conservatives have tried to erode that lead with a tax on a wide range of issues and we have a report this morning from Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.
JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: The right-wing popular party has blamed the government for the country's slowing economy and rising unemployment, as well as a wave of illegal immigration and continued attacks by Basque separatists. But national security and the economy have taken a back seat to Spain's culture wars at this year's election rallies.
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SOCOLOVSKY: One of the party's leading candidates Manuel Pizarro spoke at a rally in the Madrid suburb of Vicalvaro. He used to head Madrid's stock exchange.
Mr. MANUEL PIZARRO (Candidate for Second Deputy Prime Mister, People's Party, Spain): (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: Spain, my friends, is not doing well, he said, but there's something that worries me much more than the economy. We have a government that divides the people.
The socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has enraged the right by legalizing same sex marriage, supporting abortion and making divorce easier.
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SOCOLOVSKY: Most of the Popular Party supporters at this rally seem to be well over 50, although the party's current leader, Mariano Rajoy, many of these party faithful were nostalgic for it's last prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar. Jose Manuel Dios Santiago(ph) was happy that Aznar was one of President Bush's key allies in the Iraq war.
Mr. JOSE MANUEL DIOS SANTIAGO (Popular Party Supporter): (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: With Aznar we had a voice in the world, but with this clown - he begins to say, describing Zapatero - but his wife, Incanation(ph), interrupts him. Don't insult, she says. And she changes the subject to the Basque Separatist group ETA. The Popular Party accuses Zapatero of being soft on terrorism, holding secret talks with ETA and renewing the talks even after another deadly car bomb in Madrid.
But the Popular Party has also blundered on terrorism. It lost the last election after the terrorist attack on commuter trains in Madrid four years ago. The popular party blamed ETA even as the evidence pointed to Islamist militants.
The socialists are trying to mobilize a younger electorate with ads like this. Four years ago, young voters' anger over the Iraq war and the Madrid bombings helped Zapatero win.
And then there's the Spanish women's vote. Zapatero appointed women to half the posts in his cabinet and he pushed through a law that bans discrimination on the workplace.
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SOCOLOVSKY: The women for Zepatero platform drew an overflow crowd at their rally in Madrid. One speaker was European Parliament member Elena Valenciano.
Ms. ELENA VALENCIANO (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, European Parliament): (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: The Popular Party has always been an enemy of women's advancement and they won't fool us this time, she said. After the rally, 70-year-old Manoli Cartentero(ph), says she has good reason to be a socialist. Her father was executed in the early years of the Franco dictatorship.
Ms. MANOLI CARTENTERO (Socialist Party Supporter): (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: I will not shut up anymore, she says. Why can't a woman be the owner of her own body and why can't a man love someone of his own sex? No one should go around telling me what's moral and what's not. There's a saying that since the 19th century there have been two Spains, las dos Espanas.
One is conservative and more traditionally Catholic, the other is more secular and progressive. Once again, an election in Spain is as much a clash between two radically different visions of this nation as it is a test of the present government's handling of the economy or anything else.
For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.
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