Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spanish General Election 2008....The Emigrants Who Can Vote

Take a quick look at the image illustrating this post and see if you can guess where it was captured. Don’t bother thinking about Madrid, Barcelona or Sevilla; it’s much further away than any of these cities. It’s actually from Buenos Aires and is an indication of the importance in Spanish elections of those citizens who live overseas.

Not all Spanish emigrants returned home in the years following the death of Franco and restoration of democracy. It is estimated that in Argentina alone there are some 250-300,000 Spaniards eligible to vote, and around 150,000 of these are expected to do so. That’s many more votes than will be cast in Spanish provinces like Soria or Teruel and means that countries like Argentina or Uruguay can be important sources of support for several parties, especially if the elections turn out to be close. There are also significant numbers of Spaniards living and working in other European countries.

The origin of the Spaniards who live in South America is not always uniform and certain parts of the country, notably Galicia, are overrepresented in this community compared to their share of the total population in Spain. I don’t know what happens now, but when former Francoist minister Manuel Fraga was running the regional government of Galicia things worked like this. When an election was close Fraga would generally disappear some time before polling day on an “institutional” visit to Argentina. On this visit he would hand out a bit of largesse to the local Galician community centres, then point out how nice these centres would look if this largesse kept on coming and by the way did they know there was an election coming up? Maybe the system has changed now that Fraga has gone, but I’m sure the philosophy behind it hasn’t.

Incidentally, and this doesn’t just affect the overseas community, they say the requests for postal votes this time are running at about 40% above those of the last election. Which could mean that turnout is going to be high on Sunday; or maybe it just tells us that the number of couch potatoes with an interest in politics has increased in the last four years?

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