Spain's Socialists Win Parliamentary Elections

Spain's Socialists are celebrating victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Their leaders say the win vindicates the sharp left turn that Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has taken during the last four years. But the party fell short of the absolute majority it had hoped to get.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

To Spain now, where that country's Socialists are celebrating their victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections. The party says this win vindicates the sharp left turn Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has taken during the last four years. Still, the party fell short of the absolute majority it had hoped to get in the parliament.

Jerome Socolovsky reports from Madrid.

(Soundbite of chanting)

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Huge numbers of Zapatero fans poured into the streets when the victory was announced. They were so excited they hopped up and down in a kind of coordinated dance when he appeared on the podium.

Prime Minister JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO (Spain): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Spaniards have spoken clearly, he said, and they've decided to start a new era a new era that's free of polarization and that excludes confrontation.

During the last four years, the prime minister has incensed opponents with his legalization of homosexual marriage and offers of more self-rule for the Basque and Catalan regions.

In fact, many people say Zapatero's term has been the most divisive since the country emerged from the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s. The people celebrating here blame the conservatives for that.

(Soundbite of chanting)

The whole nation is with Zapatero, they chant.

Standing outside the headquarters of the Socialist Party, and a group of people have just popped open a bottle of champagne.

Hola.

Ms. OLGA GARVEDO (Zapatero supporter, Spain): Hello.

SOCOLOVSKY: Hello. What's your name?

Ms. GARVEDO: Olga.

SOCOLOVSKY: Olga what?

Ms. GARVEDO: Garvedo.

SOCOLOVSKY: Why is the Socialist Party the best for Spain?

Ms. GARVEDO: (Spanish language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Because their social polices have been very good, she says, and because the opposition didn't let them govern.

The leader of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, attacked Zapatero's almost every step. One of the moves he criticized was the amnesty for three-quarters of a million undocumented workers in 2005. He called Zapatero a perpetual liar for holding secret peace talks with Basque separatists. And he accused him of wanting to settle old scores from the Spanish civil war almost seven decades ago.

Last night, Rajoy said his party's 153 seats in parliament are an improvement over the last election. The Popular Party lost big then in a vote that was held in the wake of the Madrid train bombings. Many saw it as a protest vote against his predecessor's support for the Iraq War.

Yesterday, the Socialists won 169 seats.

(Soundbite of conversation)

Inside the Socialist Party headquarters, lawmaker Diego Lopez Garrido says that results confirms Zapatero's vision for Spain.

Mr. DIEGO LOPEZ Garrido (Socialist Party, Spain): In a democracy, there is a winner and today there is a loser. And the winner is Socialist program, Socialist government, and it's necessary to respect the decision made by the people very clearly.

SOCOLOVSKY: It's hard to imagine bipartisanship suddenly breaking out in Spanish politics. Commentators are already saying the vote reinforces what's known here as bipartidismo(ph) - the two-party system. In Spain, the word doesn't carry connotations of cooperation. In fact, there's no word for bipartisanship in the Spanish dictionary.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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