By Humphrey Carter

THE Partido Popular have finally confirmed Jaume Matas, as expected, as its candidate for Balearic president at the May 25 elections. Matas, who has been succeeded as Minister for the Environment by Elvira Rodríguez, said yesterday that he is relishing the challenge of the forthcoming autonomous elections “electoral campaigns are the high points of politics,” he proclaimed. Matas also admitted that this will be his first electoral campaign in opposition “for previous campaigns, we've always been in government.” “I think campaigning in opposition is much more fun,” he added. But Matas, who has been tipped as the candidate for the past few months, will be running for president with two local scandals, one involving claims of internet espionage and another involving claims of vote rigging, perhaps working against him as well as his alleged shared responsibility for the Prestige oil disaster. Matas may also find himself as a target for protest votes, over Spain's pro-USA stance on Iraq, against the Partido Popular central government.

Matas said yesterday that he hopes the Iraq crisis will not figure in the election campaigns, but he was forced to admit that it is inevitably going to have some effect. But while Matas left his post under a shower of praise from his party and colleagues, the opposition PSOE socialists in Madrid slammed his performance as Environment Minister as “awful.” Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was also accused of not caring about either the Ministry for Environment or the environment. The PSOE and its leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, have attacked the government hard over the Prestige crisis and now the government's stance on Iraq. As a result, the PSOE in the Balearics are unlikely to ignore the issues when it starts campaigning to retain its leader, Balearic President Francesc Antich, in power. But Matas is up for a fight, vowing yesterday to restore the Balearic PP to its standing of four years ago, and more, in order to win the election. However, as was made clear on Saturday during the Balearic Day celebration speeches in parliament, the political scene and process in the Balearics has changed a great deal since 1999 with the coalition government in power. But the PP in the Balearics claim the coalition is weak and “battered” and that Jaume Matas is the best possible candidate to lead them into the elections and back to power. PP spokesperson Joan Flaquer said that it is about time Matas has officially announced his candidacy “we've been waiting and working very hard for the past two months and the Balrearics should make the most of having a former government minister as president.”


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