Spain Holds Parliamentry Election

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Spain holds its Parliamentary election Sunday. Terrorism is a hot button issue once again, after a former politician in the Basque region was assassinated on Friday; the separatist group ETA is being blamed. Jerome Socolovsky, who is in Madrid, discusses the situation with Liane Hansen.


Polls have opened for a parliamentary election today in Spain. The socialists, who oppose the war in Iraq, won the last vote four years ago, after Islamic militants blew up commuter trains in Madrid. Terrorism is the key issue again. A former politician in the Basque region was assassinated on Friday, and the separatist group ETA is being blamed.

Jerome Socolovsky is in Madrid covering the election. Jerome, first of all, tell us about the attack and what effect it might have on the outcome of today's vote.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Good morning, Liane.

Well, the attack on Friday was against a former town counselor up in the Basque region. He was gunned down as he got into his car on his way to work. He didn't have a bodyguard like many politicians up in the Basque region do because he wasn't in the current town council.

Right after the attack, campaigning was suspended. The idea that - was that no one would try to make any political point score - any political points on this killing. But the parties have bickered on the sidelines over who knows best how to fight terrorism.

Having said that, it's not expected to affect today's votes. The government had warned that ETA was going to try to carry out a deadly attack. And every campaign for a national election since the 1970s has been proceeded by an ETA attack, or in the case of the last election in 2004, we had the Madrid train bombings.

HANSEN: Remind us, how did the Madrid train bombings affect that election in 2004?

SOCOLOVSKY: Well, those bombings are thought to have benefited the socialists by mobilizing a lot of young voters who were angry with the conservative government's support for the Iraq War and participation in the military coalition. The socialists are hoping something similar is going to happen this time.

They're targeting young voters with a slick, Obama-like campaign and getting endorsements from actors and musicians. The socialists have done a number of things that are popular with that element of the electorate, like legalizing same-sex marriage and promising incentives that appeal to younger voters in an economy that's slowing down.

HANSEN: What about the parties on the right? What are their issues?

SOCOLOVSKY: Well, the right wing Popular Party, which is lead by Mariano Rajoy, says Zapatero is dividing the country with initiatives like the legalization of same-sex marriage. He says Zapatero is soft on terrorism and has encouraged separatist movements by talking to them about their demands. And the right wing says that Spain could be like the former Yugoslavia.

It has a lot of regions with nationalist sentiment in those regions, and they're pretty worried about that.

HANSEN: Are there other important issues in this election?

SOCOLOVSKY: Well, the other key issue among many is immigration. Jobs are being lost and there's a housing slump here. Spain has had a huge immigration wave in the last decade or so. It's gone from having almost no foreign-born residents to having around 10 percent of the population now, which is immigrant.

Rajoy, the leader of the Popular Party, says immigrants should sign a contract in which they learn to follow Spanish customs, which is not flamenco or bull fights but learning the language and perhaps not wearing a veil at public school if you're a Muslim girl. And he says that if they don't have a job after a year or so they could face deportation. That would be under his proposal.

HANSEN: Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid, Spain, where parliamentary elections are being held today. Thank you, Jerome.

SOCOLOVSKY: You're welcome, Liane.

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