Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Next Stop Navarra

Now that the numbers issue is done with, it's time to look at some of the political fallout following last weekend's demonstration. When hundreds of thousands of people marched against José Maria Aznar's disastrous participation in the invasion of Iraq, Aznar contemptuously dismissed the protests as "placard politics". It seems hard to imagine that he doesn't recall the phrase as he and his party take to the streets week after week. The notion that the demonstration was somehow non party political is even more laughable than the attendance estimates. Despite the appropriation of once neutral symbols that don’t belong to them, everything about the march was designed to promote the Partido Popular (PP) and its leader, Mariano Rajoy. The stewards coordinated the chanting, and most of these chants were aimed directly at Prime Minister Zapatero. References to De Juana Chaos were fairly sparse; perhaps because they coudn't get an easy rhyme with "Rajoy presidente".

Meanwhile, the demands of maximising the impact for the ever present helicopter of Telemadrid meant that the march itself advanced at a snails pace. I found a vantage point to watch the front go past and it took about 20 minutes just to advance 70-80 metres, and not because of anything that was blocking the way. With such a short route, it only takes about 10 minutes to walk it normally, the march would be over in no time if they didn’t deliberately slow it down. Rajoy has declared that it was "beautiful", so much did he enjoy the adulation he received that he has decided he needs another fix; Navarra is the place chosen for next Saturday's street protest. Someone needs to tell him that there won't be one like this every weekend, and that he shouldn't confuse public opinion with PP opinion.

Now at least Madrid can relax a bit. Even allowing for their current state of over-excitement it should still be difficult for the PP or their allies to organise any further demonstrations in the city for at least another 10 days or so. A previous mayor of Madrid once suggested that maybe the city should create a designated space for demonstrations - a "manifestódromo", he was concerned more about the interruption of the city’s traffic than anything else. At the time the idea rightly attracted derision, but after months of angry right wingers marching up and down the same street in the centre every second weekend, you do start to feel that maybe they need somewhere where they can go and be as angry as they want without bothering the rest of us. Nobody else gets much chance to protest these days, perhaps what we need is a quota system.

Rajoy and his troops will be marching this weekend in Navarra against the (wholly imaginary) "annexation" of the region by the Basque country. This fictional concession that Zapatero is alleged to have made to ETA is yet another pretext for maintaining the political tension. In reality the PP will be taking to the streets in protest against something which they have invented. On that basis they will have the potential to be out marching every weekend for years to come.

Yesterday in parliament the Interior Minister, Alfredo Rubalcaba, rightly pulled out the list (the loooong list) of concessions that the PP made on ETA prisoners when they were in power, and we are not just talking about one prisoner being put under house arrest. He also used exactly the same words used by one of his PP predecessors to explain why the government took the decision on De Juana Chaos. The government is hitting back hard at the PP's hypocrisy on the issue, and nobody who studies the full range of measures that the PP took when in power can complain about this behaviour being raised. The next big test is going to come in the run up to the municipal elections in May, and the attempts by ETA’s political wing, the still illegal Batasuna, to present candidates. The PP is already preparing itself for this issue and probably hoping to turn it into the central theme of the campaign. However, unless the government makes a serious miscalculation of ETA’s or Batasuna’s intentions, it is unlikely that the PP will find another issue that will give them the same impetus as De Juana Chaos.

It seems crazy, even allowing for the bomb at Madrid airport at the end of December, that terrorism should be the highest profile political issue. This parliament has, touch wood, seen the lowest number of victims of terrorism of any since the restoration of democracy after Franco's death. In one sense the PP have succeeded in their relentless campaign to make the issue the centre of attention. Whether or not this effort will give them the electoral reward they are seeking from it is open to question, the next opinion polls will be interesting. The 12 months up to next year’s general elections are going to see some very tough politics in Spain, the big unknown is whether the PP’s aggressive opposition is going to achieve its objective of persuading some of those who elected the current government to stay at home the next time they are called on to vote. It could have the opposite effect of mobilising the anti-PP vote.


Tom Clarke said...

Another nice analysis. It beggars belief that anyone who looks at this story can seriously continue to back the PP. Check out Iberian Notes who singularly fails to to answer the main questions, yet again!


oktomanota said...

nice comments and good blog off course, but yesterday rajoy said , "i don´t know even eta do the explotion on 11m", 3 years ago, they said its eta , it make mi confuse a lot ,

Graeme said...

Yes, it's easy to get confused about the PP and the Madrid bombings, not least because they have done everything they can to confuse the issue from the day of the attack until now. I write about this on my other blog.