Election Day in Spain

The Spanish federal election was held yesterday, Sunday March 9th. Yes, that’s correct… Sunday. The same was true for Colombian elections and I found it baffling there as well. Perhaps this practice is tied to the length of the Spanish work day; if you work until 9:00 p.m., that doesn’t leave much time to vote.

Sunday’s elction unfolded so quietly, in fact, that DP and I were completely unaware that is had happened. This is one of the odd things about teaching internationally; it is a bit like being at summer camp… but for an incredibly long time.

We now have a new (old) government. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist party was elected for its second term with a minority government. Zapatero won his first election just after the Madrid bombings in 2004 when the ruling Conservative government accused the ETA (Basque Separatists) of the terrorist act that killed 191 commuters in Madrid. The bombings were then found to have been planned by Islamist groups with ties to al-Qaeda. Some Spaniards felt that this false accusation was serious enough to swing the election over to the Socialists.

Two days before Sunday’s election, one of the president’s Socialist colleagues, a former city councilor in the Basque region, was assassinated in front of his wife and children. This time it was the ETA. Again, some Spaniards speculated that this helped generate a sympathy vote for the Socialists.

Perhaps it is more helpful to focus on Zapatero and the work he is doing in Spain. Over the last four years, he has made immigration his focus, placing over 700,000 (formerly illegal) immigrants on the fast-track to citizenship. He has legalized gay marriage, improved the rights of women and regional minorities (Basques and Catalans), introduced a marriage contract that requires men to do half the housework and opposed the influence of the Catholic Church. In the last ten years, Spain has gone from a country with almost no immigrants to a diverse nation-state in which ten per cent of its 48 million citizens were born in foreign countries.

Love him or hate him, he is making real changes in a country that was, until recently, known (along with Portugal) as “Europe’s kitchen.” This title has nothing to do with tapas but was a comment on Spain’s poverty and backwardness.

And, in an age of voter apathy, more than 75 per cent of eligible voters turned out at the polls yesterday.

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