Spainish Elections: A Vote Against Bush’s Invasion of Iraq

Today’s election results from Spain are really, really significant. The ruling conservative party lost and the opposition socialist party (which was in power from 1982 to 1996) achieved a major and unexpected victory. Why? The economy in Spain has been doing very well under the center-right government of José Maria Aznar, who has been in power for 8 years. There have been no major scandals or significant charges of corruption. And yet, the conservatives lost the election by a surprisingly large margin.

After talking about this with several of my Spanish friends about today’s election results, I’ve concluded that the reason must be related to Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Spain under the conservatives took a very high-profile stance supporting Bush’s invasion; Aznar was Bush’s second greatest ally last year after Tony Blair, despite the fact that the war was generally unpopular in Spain. Today the Spanish people had their first chance – really the first chance in any major country that supported Bush’s invasion – to register their opinion. And they said that they thought it was a mistake, and that they no longer want to be ruled by those who committed it.

The horrible bombings of last week probably contributed to this defeat. Before the bombings, all polls showed the conservatives leading the socialists. But two things happened with the bombings. The first is that it served as a powerful, emotional reminder of the fact that Aznar took Spain into a war that the majority of Spaniards thought was unwise, in part because people thought that it would increase, rather than reduce, the danger of terrorism.

The second way the bombings influenced the election was through the government’s handling of the investigation. The government continued insisting, until late yesterday, that the bombings were undoubtedly the work of the Basque separatist movement ETA. If the bombings had been the work of ETA, that would have strengthened the conservatives’ hand, since it would have reinforced the popularity of their extremely hard line against Basque separatists. On the other hand, if the bombings had been the work of Islamic terrorists, it would have undermined their support by drawing attention to their choice to help invade Iraq.

The conservative government’s single-minded accusations of ETA during the first 2 days after the bombings increasingly seemed to just be the government playing politics with the bombings. There were large protests on Saturday night of people accusing the government of not revealing the whole truth about the bombings because of the government’s fear of the implications for the elections. Today’s results show that such feelings about the government’s handling of the bombings were widespread. They also show that playing politics with a terrorist attack is simply not a good idea.