_
_
_
_
_
Editorial:
Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

The eve of change

Regional and municipal elections will usher in a new political cycle dominated by the right

Less than a week before regional and municipal polls, little or nothing has changed the likelihood that the Socialist Party is going to take a severe beating. There is a widespread mood of indifference about a process that is largely seen as routine, if not as ritual. The reason for the electorate's lack of interest has less to do with anything the parties have failed to say or do during the campaign so far, and more with what our politicians have been up to before it began.

Despite the best efforts of the Socialists to keep the focus of the polls local, the opposition Popular Party (PP) has largely succeeded in converting the campaign into a dress rehearsal for next year's general elections. Mariano Rajoy, the PP leader, has been touring the country focusing on an issue that town halls and regional governments have no power over: unemployment. And in all likelihood, there is probably little that a PP government could do to make much of a difference to the problem should it win next year.

The Socialists have signally failed to come up with any policies or arguments to inspire the electorate in the face of the PP's simplistic and contradictory sloganeering. Unlike in the 2008 elections, the Socialists can no longer rely on a fear of the return of the right- not that the PP has managed to focus its policies into anything approaching a coherent platform.

If the latest opinion polls are to be believed, next Sunday could well see the PP lay the foundations for a political supremacy that is never-before-seen in modern Spanish politics. In the event of winning an overwhelming landslide at the local and regional level, it will be in a much stronger position to force an early general election.

Distracted by the power struggle of who will succeed José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as head of the party, the Socialists will find it hard to come up with any new initiatives that would justify its continued stay in office.

At this stage, there is no point in crying over spilt milk by pointing out that Zapatero and his colleagues refused to listen to criticism of their policies. In short, as of next Sunday, the future of the left in Spain is at stake: the existence, in the medium term, of any kind of counter-balance to the Popular Party is also at risk.

The economic crisis has revealed the long-standing problem of under-funding at the municipal level, an issue that until now has been hidden by the huge amounts of money generated by the construction and real-estate boom. Town halls have spent years financing their day-to-day spending with income that they believed would never run out.

At the same time, the response of regional governments to the shortfall in funding has been to make increasingly shrill demands on the central government, which is in no position to do anything, given the need to reduce the deficit.

In the meantime, during the electoral campaign the main parties have failed to address the issue of how the country's cities and regions will fund public services. Next Monday may well see the country's political map turn blue, but the budgetary problems will remain, and in all likelihood, the electorate will have voted with its eyes closed.

Major setback

The latest opinion poll published by EL PAÍS in its Sunday edition suggests that the Socialist Party is due for a major setback. For the first time since the country made the transition to democracy, the Popular Party stands a serious chance of taking over the control of long-standing Socialist fiefdoms such as Castilla-La Mancha and Seville City Hall. The PP's increased vote in Catalonia could well mean that control of Barcelona City Hall passes to the right-wing, Catholic Convergència I Unió, which would see an unprecedented alliance between the nationalists there and the PP, something that would have been unthinkable even a year ago. There is also uncertainty over the Socialists' continued control of Extremadura.

As well as consolidating its power base in Madrid, if the opinion polls are to be believed, the PP will strengthen its control in Valencia. Far from having weakened the grip of the regional premier there, Francisco Camps- the focus, for many, of the long-running Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts case- his hold seems to have been strengthened. It will now be up to the courts to decide the future of Camps, with the concomitant negative repercussions on the institutions of the state.

In short, the opinion polls suggest that Spain is about to enter a new political cycle that will benefit a politician, Mariano Rajoy, who has done nothing to deserve it, and for a party, the PP, whose campaign essentially has boiled down to "vote for us, we're not the Socialists."

As for the other parties, and particularly the Socialists, the time has come to think about how to build an alternative to the right. In a system like Spain's, change at the national, regional, and municipal level is essential to avoid abuse and to stimulate debate.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_