Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Mar 19, 2004
Spain's vote for peace and the people
One of the first decisions of the PSOE leader and Prime Minister elect, Mr Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, was to announce, after interpreting popular public sentiment, that he would by June recall the 1,300 Spanish troops now in Iraq.
Mr Zapatero, a big critic of the war against Iraq, described it after his victory as "a big disaster". He had earlier urged the US President, Mr George W. Bush, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, to look inward and engage in "self criticism" on whether the attack on Iraq was warranted at all.
The much higher turnout for the election 77.2 per cent, about 9 per cent more than in the 2000 election by itself meant bad news for the incumbent government. In any election, a higher turnout spells trouble for the ruling party. People who are content or happy with a government do not take the extra effort necessary to come out and vote in large numbers.
So a higher turnout, and that too after the ghastly tragedy and the people's persistent demand for the truth regarding the elements behind the attacks, definitely meant trouble for Mr Jose Maria Aznar.
Mr Zapatero's harsh criticism of the Iraq war, his terming both the war and the occupation "a huge disaster" that had only "generated more violence and hatred" was bad enough and was bound to generate anger in Washington.
But the man who would any day prefer the Democratic Presidential candidate, Mr John Kerry, over the incumbent Mr Bush as the next US President, made matters worse by adding: "Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism. One cannot bomb a people by chance, one cannot lead a war with lies." He added that the occupation had "divided more than it united... time has shown that the arguments for it lacked credibility and the occupation has been managed badly."
As Mr Zapatero reiterated his commitment to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, on Wednesday the gloves were out in Washington and some Bush administration officials traded charges not only with the new Spanish Prime Minister but the entire population of Spain.
Mr Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said Spain was "a nation that succumbed ... to threats of terrorism and changed its government. Here's a country which stood against terrorism and had a huge terrorist act within their country, and they chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists."
Another member of the House, Mr Henry Hyde of Illinois, who is also chairman of the House International Relations Committee, raised the pitch to a shrill level by charging that the "the vote in Spain was a great victory for al Qaeda."
What better example than this can there be of the Americans telling the rest of the world what to do? For time immemorial and through economic might and hegemony, the US has been dominating the smaller nations and urging them to go in for exactly the kind of economic reforms that would benefit its interests at home and overseas.
In yet another outrageous example it is now telling a nation that too, not a Third World Asian or African country but a European nation that has been included in the exclusive European Union club, how it should vote in an election. Or, rather, asking how it dare throw out a man who was a friend of its President?
Remember the days when the outgoing Spanish premier, Mr Aznar, had the privilege of appearing beside Mr Bush and Mr Blair for a mini summit at Camp David prior to the attack on Iraq?
Later, on May 3, welcoming him yet again at the US Presidential retreat, Mr Bush had described Spain as "a very close friend" and said the visit would provide "an opportunity for us to share some private time together, to talk about issues of concern between our countries, as well as opportunities we can have to work together for world peace."
Well, the results of seeking "world peace" in the company of Mr Bush and Mr Blair became painfully evident to the people of Spain on that bloody day on March 11, when as many as 200 people were killed in the serial bomb blasts and a couple of thousand injured.
It would be insane to justify any violence; and least of all of the al Qaeda variety that results in such huge tragedies for innocent civilians who have nothing to do with their Government's strange ways of seeking world peace, nor any power to stop it.
But what is an eye-opener is that a nation that has a choice immediately after a bloody attack like the one Madrid saw last week would rather opt to live their lives outside the shadow of constant fear that confrontation, war and hegemony bring about.
That the Spanish election was not all about terrorism and its ugly shadow was evident from a very telling comment an ordinary citizen made to BBC News after the results were declared.
Said the man, when asked to comment on the kind of change the new regime will bring: "I think we'll see social policies such as aid for the poor, better working conditions, and better living conditions as there are not enough homes. I think there will be a general change in internal and external policies."
Returning to the dramatic victory of the opposition in Spain, it is worthwhile examining if it holds out lessons for powerful nations that think might is right and that any nation such as Iraq, the people of which are plagued by a repressive regime like that of Saddam Hussein, is up for grabs.
The magnitude of the people's verdict took the Spanish, as well as the entire European media, by surprise. The Spanish newspapers kept marvelling at the absolute sweep by the socialists and of them, El Mundo commented: "Never in the history of our democracy has a candidate achieved power at the first attempt."
Another important feature of the Spanish election and its result will be realignment in Europe which had been divided into "New Europe" and "Old Europe" prior to the attacks on Iraq, primarily because while Germany and France refused to kowtow to Mr Bush, both Britain and a relatively less influential European country like Spain showed absolute subservience to the American diktat on Iraq.
This would further isolate Blair's Britain in the European fraternity. Fears are also being expressed about Britain being the next target of violence from terrorists.
So what does Mr Bush have to say? Asked whether the Spanish vote meant triumph for terrorists and hope that their acts of violence can influence election results, he said: "I think terrorists will kill innocent life in order to try to get the world to cower. I think these are cold-blooded killers."
Obviously, the Bush administration would be worried about the kind of impact another act of terrorism on American soil could have on the US elections.
As for Mr Zapatero, this unabashed admirer of Mr Kerry was quoted thus by the International Herald Tribune: "We're aligning ourselves with Kerry. Our allegiance will be for peace, against war, no more deaths for oil, and for a dialogue between the Government of Spain and the new Kerry administration."
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