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SPAIN'S ruling centre-right Partido Popular (PP) will defeat the Socialists in the March 14 general elections but its absolute majority in parliament hangs by a thread, two polls indicated yesterday. One poll by state body Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas (CIS - Centre of Sociological Research) forecast the PP winning 42.2 percent of the vote and 176 parliamentary seats -- the exact number needed to form a government and pass laws on its own. The PP currently has 183 seats in parliament.
The Socialists were seen improving their tally to 35.5 percent of the vote and 131 seats, from their current 125.
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who first led his party to election victory in 1996, is not seeking a third term. The PP has instead fielded his hand-picked candidate, Mariano Rajoy, until recently deputy prime minister. The CIS survey, based on more than 24'000 interviews, found that slightly more people would prefer Socialist candidate, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as prime minister but nearly two-thirds of those surveyed still thought Rajoy's party would win. Rajoy was in Majorca on the election trail on Sunday. Zapatero visited the island yesterday to address a rally in Palma.
A second poll, published in the El Mundo daily, showed the PP winning 42.8 percent of the vote and 172 to 177 seats, while the Socialists would win 36.6 percent of ballots and 134 to 139 seats. It was based on 12'500 interviews. The newspaper said there was no doubt the PP would garner the largest number of votes. But it could be forced to make pacts with regional parties to garner a majority. A furious row over armed Basque separatist group ETA's declaration of a truce limited to the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia has dominated the electoral campaign. ETA called the partial ceasefire after it was revealed that Catalan politician Josep-Lluis Carod-Rovira, whose party rules the region in coalition with the Socialists, had held secret talks with the guerrilla organisation. The PP, which has taken a hard line against ETA, accuses Carod of brokering the Catalonia-only truce. He denies that.
The PP has attacked the Socialists for remaining in a coalition with Carod's party, accusing Zapatero of being spineless in the fight against ETA. Zapatero has hit back by saying the PP was exploiting terrorism for electoral ends. Politicians of all stripes condemned the limited ceasefire as immoral and a licence to kill in the rest of Spain.
Days ago, a suspected ETA member was caught driving towards Madrid with a van packed with more than 500 kg (1'100 lb) of explosives. ETA has killed nearly 850 people since 1968 in pursuit of an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.