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2004-03-10 12:19:00
Embassy Madrid
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 000817 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/09/2014

Classified By: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Political Counselor, for Reasons 1
.4 (b) and (d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 000817


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/09/2014

Classified By: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Political Counselor, for Reasons 1
.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Spanish regional leaders in Valencia,
Asturias, Andalucia and Extremadura from both the Socialist
and Popular Parties believe the Popular Party will gain the
most seats in the March 14 national elections. But most of
them - except for two Socialist party members in regional
Socialist strongholds and one PP operative - believe the PP
may not win the absolute majority it needs to govern on its
own. These leaders also indicated that foreign policy,
including Iraq, will not be a deciding factor in the
elections; economic and local issues touching directly on
Spaniards' lives, will be the key issues. Their views
comport with conventional wisdom prevailing in Madrid less
than a week before the elections, set for Sunday, March 14.
The last polls permitted before the national elections came
out on March 8 - each with slightly varied results depending
on the political affiliation of the polling organization.
Indications remain that the PP will form the next Spanish
government, but will have to fight until the waning hours of
the campaign to try to win an absolute majority. End Summary

2. (SBU) Embassy political officers visited four important
regions in Spain to take the pulse of regional leaders and
gauge the impact of regional issues on the national
elections. Two of these regions - Andalucia, and Extremadura
-- are governed by well-known Socialist party bosses, both of
whom are also frequently cited as possible replacements for
Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Jose Luis Rodriquez
Zapatero if their party loses badly in the national
elections. The regional Asturias government is a coalition
of the Socialists and the radical United Left (IU) party.
President Aznar's Popular Party (PP) governs the Valencia
region and Valencia city's mayor is a prominent PP
personality. Valencia has been identified, however, as a
region the PP must target to win over undecided voters. None
of these regions poses the kind of separatist or regional
autonomy challenge of the Basque or Catalonia regions. But
each prides itself in its distinct regional autonomy,
cteristics and history.


3. (SBU) The Popular Party is seeking to break the
Socialists' 22-year hold on the Andalucian government in
regional elections March 14. This will be the only regional
election that coincides with the general election. However,
polling indicates that the PP will have a difficult time
dethroning Socialist "Baron" Manuel Chavez, the region's
long-serving President. Indeed, some polling indicates that
Chavez and the Socialists will win an absolute majority in
the regional elections and thus be able to govern without
coalition partners for the first time since 1994.

4. (SBU) Socialist, PP, and Andalucian Regionalist (Partido
Andalucista) politicians with whom Poloff met in Seville on
March 3 noted that Andalucia has historically deep leftist
roots that work strongly in favor of the PSOE. They expect
this to play out in the voting for the national election as
well as for the Andalucian regional elections. The PP does
well in urban areas and controls six of Andalucia's eight
largest cities. However, the countryside, with its legacy of
exploited peasants, remains solidly in the PSOE camp. If
trends continue, this should allow the PSOE to carry the
region in the national election on March 14. Both Zapatero
and Rajoy have campaigned extensively in Andalucia.

5. (SBU) The PP hopes to narrow the gap, and ultimately
overcome it, by appealing to the sentiment that the Chavez
government is an inefficient patronage-based regime that
stifles economic growth. However, many poor farmers in the
countryside live off the patronage system (most notably an
agricultural welfare system known as PER) and are fearful of
reform. The Chavez government also controls the regional TV
station, Canal Sur, the only source of news in some rural
areas. Canal Sur's message is unabashedly pro-Chavez and
pro-PSOE. While the polling outlook for the PP looks tough,
PP strategists hope for a "hidden vote" in their favor since
Andalucians are reluctant to admit to pollsters that they
support the PP.


6. (C) Extremadura's Socialist regional governor, Jose
Ibarra, is one of PSOE's key party leaders. His Chief of
Staff, Ignacio Sanchez-Amor, indicated that Extremadura
voters are less motivated by the issues that dominate the
agenda of the national campaigns of both parties.
Sanchez-Amor said that though unemployment is an important
element in the national elections (with the PP able to claim
a significant decline in unemployment since they took
office), the issue is unlikely to bring voters out in support
of the Socialist party nationally. He also admitted that the
PP has actually done a good job of creating a good investment
climate to reduce unemployment in Spain. He believes voters
credit the PP for plans to extend the Madrid-Seville
high-speed train all the way to Lisbon, which would benefit
Extremadura. Though tolerant of PP national government,
Extremadura's Socialists remain staunchly loyal to Juan
Carlos Ibarra, President and Secretary General of the
regional Socialist Party. Sanchez-Amor said voters admire
Ibarra's willingness to speak out against PP "excesses."

7. (C) Both PSOE's Sanchez Amor and the Popular Party
parliamentary candidate for the city of Badajoz warned us
that national public opinion polling can be less than
reliable. Sanchez-Amor dismissed polling that indicates a
majority of Spaniards would like to see a change in
government, saying that if this were true they would be far
less passive this electoral campaign. He also discussed the
composition of the some 23 percent who remain undecided. He
said that most of the older undecided voters consist of
conservatives, those who have no strong ideological position,
or those who will chose a candidate at the last minute.
However, younger voters, who were not active in the last
elections and who have strong ideological tendencies, are
likely to turn out in greater numbers in support of the

8. (C) The PP's Pia-Sanchez believes the national polls are
unreliable because voters tend to misrepresent how they
intend to vote in informal telephone surveys, on which most
Spanish polls are based. She also expressed concern that
polls favoring the PP might discourage potential PP voters or
mobilize potential abstainers who are against the PP.
Finally, she states, the polls satisfy the interests of the
party who requests them rather than reflect how people will
actually vote.

9. (C) According to Sanchez-Amor, Spanish voters worry that
Spain's support for US policies in Iraq created tension with
their traditional EU allies. Nevertheless, Spain's foreign
policy is unlikely to be deciding factor in this election, he
said. Voters ideally want Spain to have influence within
the EU while maintaining friendly relations with the US, no
matter which party is in power after March 14. Pia-Sanchez
said that Spain under the PP would remain a close ally of the
US and an active partner in Iraq. However, she believes a PP
government would focus more attention on cooperation with
Latin America and the Middle East.


10. (SBU) In the 1980's Asturias could be counted on to vote
PSOE in national elections, but the PP edged even in 1993 and
1996, and pulled ahead in the 2000 congressional vote by a
wide margin. The Asturias regional government is formed by
a PSOE-IU coalition, marking only the second time since the
restoration of democracy that the Socialists have not ruled
alone at the regional level (the other being a four-year term
of PP control in the 1990s). Of its nine Congressional
seats, the PP currently holds five, the PSOE four and the
United Left one. This year, because of Asturias' stagnant
population growth, the region will receive only eight seats
in Congress.

11. (SBU) Asturias' Autonomous Region President's Chief of
Staff, PSOE member Maria Jose Ramos, told us that local
concerns will dominate Asturias' voter choices in the
national elections. These include the need to improve
transportation links (especially those with its neighbors,
Galicia, Cantabria, and the Basque region), solving the
financial burden caused by unfunded mandates from the
national government, employment and reducing home prices.
She also said the region suffers because of its strained
relationship with Minister-level officials of the PP national
government. She said she expects the PP to win on March 14
(though without an absolute majority), but hopes that Rajoy's
ministerial appointees will be more cooperative than Aznar's.

12. (C) PSOE representatives, including the party's leading
congressional candidate Alvaro Cuesta Martinez, echoed the
same PSOE themes and cited the region's strained relationship
with the national government as the main issue in Asturias
for this election, closely followed by transportation
infrastructure and housing prices. They said they were
expecting a PP victory nationally, and seemed resigned to the
possibility that the PP would be able to govern with the four
seats promised to them by the Canary Islands.

13. (C) The PP's top regional candidate, Alicia Castro,
placed terrorism at the top of Asturias' issues, with
employment issues a close second. She blames the Asturias
region's "failings" on "incompetence" at the regional
government level, stating that the PSOE local officials are
slow to act on programs and projects that the national
government has funded. In the national elections, she said
she was confident of an absolute majority for the PP, stating
that she expected around 177-178 votes for the PP, with even
180 as a possibility.

14. (C) Both political parties made a point to remind us of
old grievances dating from the Franco era (Castro noting how
the Communists burned Oviedo's cathedral in the 1930's, and
Cuesta Martinez pointing out an interview excerpt in which an
Aznar official purportedly expressed his admiration for
General Franco). Because of its mining, steel and iron
industries, the region has a long history in Spain's labor
movement (with the local PSOE party celebrating the 100-year
anniversary of socialism in Asturias), and the PP and PSOE
camps appear to have a particularly bitter relationship.


15. (SBU) The PP won a convincing victory in Valencia in the
2000 elections, capturing 9 seats versus 6 for the PSOE, and
hopes to repeat that feat in 2004. The PP benefits in
Valencia, one of Spain's most economically dynamic regions,
from the charismatic mayor of Valencia city, Rita Barbera.
Barbera has won four terms and has a national reputation as
one of Spain's best mayors. She recently helped Valencia win
selection as site of the next America's Cup (since the
previous winner, Switzerland, can't host).

16. (SBU) DCM and Poloff met with Barbera in Valencia in
February. Barbera was confident that the PP would maintain
its edge in Valencia on March 14. Political analysts Poloff
met with in Valencia, including Socialists, shared this view.
They conceded that the PP had governed well in Valencia and
that this did not give the PSOE much of an opening. The PP
has been pushing a national water plan that works to
Valencia's benefit and this has won PP popularity as well.
Nonetheless, some polls indicate that the PP's margin may
drop by one seat on March 14, reflecting a general tightening
of the race nationwide. Rajoy addressed his largest rally of
the election campaign in Valencia on March 8, speaking before
a crowd of up to 20,000.