THE vice-secretary general of the Partido Popular, Jaime Mayor Oreja, joined the PP's electoral campaign in the Balearics yesterday, calling for all PP supporters to vote on Sunday. The local elections will prove to be an important test for the Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who on Sunday, will find out if his strong support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq has a political price. Aznar will also get a chance to measure his coattails with his wife, who is running for Madrid city council, and see what comes of his zero tolerance for Basque separatist violence with a radical party banned from the ballot. In a preview of next year's general election, 33 million people are eligible to vote in 8'108 municipalities and 13 of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. The right-of-centre Aznar, 50, who has decided to step down next year after two terms, energetically backed U.S. President George W. Bush on Iraq while polls showed up to 90 percent of Spaniards against the war. His ruling Popular Party also suffered from the government's handling of the Prestige oil disaster last November, when the leaking tanker was ordered to sea rather than to port. Local elections may favour the opposition Socialists, whose leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero heads his first campaign.
The Socialists came within 0.2 percentage points of the PP in 1999 but lost by more than 10 percentage points in a general election a year later. “This is something of a referendum on Aznar for his performance in the war and in the Prestige disaster, but there are also local factors,” said Carlos Berzosa, political commentator and economics professor at Complutense University. In the troubled Basque region, this will be the first election since Madrid asked the courts to ban the radical separatist party Batasuna on the grounds it formed part of ETA, a violent group listed as terrorist by the United States and the European Union.