Spain – The Attacks and the Elections

By | December 31, 2021

Then, on the eve of the vote, the ten explosions: the smoke, the screams, the blood, the torn bodies, the scattered and parched limbs, the panic, the dismay, the voices, the accusations, the unaware and guilty silences.

The Madrid bombing was announced. Or rather, an attack was announced. That Bush’s closest allies would pay dearly for their choices, Islamist terrorism had clearly stated on several occasions. Threats promptly acknowledged by the intelligence services, both internally and internationally, which had not failed to transmit the relevant information. On the other hand, too many times the Basque terrorist organization had made its voice heard during electoral competitions. An ETA action was therefore foreseeable, expected and feared. Among other things, a suitcase containing explosives was found on Christmas Eve in the train from Irún to Madrid and 500 kg of explosives were found in a van discovered in Cuenca. It is therefore not surprising that in the moments immediately following the terrible explosions almost all Spaniards thought about ETA. So did, for example, the head of the Basque government, the lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, the first of the politicians to pronounce and attribute the responsibility for the massacre to the Basque terrorist organization. For Spain political system, please check

After the disorientation of the first moments, with the passing of the hours, however, there were various options that opened up to the PP. First of all, to behave cautiously: to say that you do not know and wait for the results of the investigations. It would have been prudent, and the voters would in all likelihood have appreciated that virtue. Furthermore, by operating in this way, the PP would have kept faith with the anti-terrorism pact stipulated with the PSOE in 2000 (a ‘State Pact’, in the Spanish lexicon) which bound the contractors not to use the threat represented by terrorism instrumentally for electoral purposes. and the fight against it. There was also a second possibility: to attribute responsibility to the only global terrorism that Aznar had spoken of after 9/11. In this way, the people’s government would have demonstrated coherence of interpretation and even in this case the voters would not have turned their backs on it. At the emergence of the first clues indicating the paternity of Islamist terrorism, he could have alluded to it and appealed to the strong national pride of the Spaniards (even serving the resistance of the Basque and Catalan nationalists) to rally them under the banners of the wounded homeland. History is not made with the ‘ifs’, it says a refrain that historians have not coined and that the best of them would not subscribe since plausible hypotheses are part of the range of possibilities that the historian must take into consideration. And it is very likely that a PP who had not kept silent about the responsibilities.

Instead, for the whole day of the attack and for the whole following day, the PP intentionally pointed out the ETA trail to public opinion: first with the Minister of the Interior Ángel Acebes who appeared in front of the press stating that the government had no doubts about it; shortly after, around 2.00 pm, with the same Aznar who alluded to the Basque terrorist organization, even without naming it explicitly; then with the confidential note of the Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, who around 5.30 pm of the same day invited all the ambassadors not to miss an opportunity to “confirm the paternity of the ETA of these brutal attacks”; finally in the evening, around 8 pm, again with Acebes who, while reiterating that the main track continued to be that of ETA, he did not reject other possibilities. Late and only under strong pressure (even from the monarch, according to what has been read, later than those coming from the square) the Spanish government admitted other possibilities and supported the existence of another investigative lead. Not only. There are several phone calls from Aznar and other government officials to the directors of various media outlets to steer public opinion in one direction. On 12 March at 11 am Aznar confirmed that the main suspicions were on ETA, a priority reaffirmed by Acebes in the declaration at 6.15 pm. Shortly after, through a phone call that the investigators considered reliable, the ETA declined any responsibility in the attacks, but Acebes replied that he did not believe this statement. From the morning of the attacks, then, Arnaldo Ortegi, the spokesman for Herri Batasuna, the dissolved party considered a supporter of the Basque terrorist organization, had declared that neither for the objectives nor for the modus operandi the massacre could be attributed to ETA, while it could be an operation of sectors of the Arab resistance; shortly thereafter a van was found near the Alcalá de Henares station with explosives, detonators and verses from the Koran; Finally, on the evening of the 11th, a claim came to the Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi, which is published in London, in which a group linked to Al Qaeda assumed the authorship of the attacks.

The most informed observers and the most reliable analysts have judged instrumental the political management of the hours following the attack by the Aznar government which, by pointing to the Spanish voters ETA as responsible, was trying to protect itself from the accusation of having in some way ‘provoked’ Islamist terrorism with the decision to support Bush’s policy on Iraq. In this way, the eve of the vote, the day called ‘reflection’, in which electoral propaganda must be silenced, was rippled by the self-convened demonstrations in front of the offices of the PP of several thousand citizens who protested against the reticence, manipulation and misdirection of the government. The next day, March 14, the vote with a ‘

The blank votes and the null ballots remained substantially unchanged, again in relation to the 2000 data, with the exception of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla – where the popular ones have increased the consensus for the intransigent defense of the Spanish community towards the Morocco – in no constituency did the PP maintain the percentages of 2000, reaching real collapses, as in the three Basque constituencies and in Navarre. In all constituencies, the socialists had an increase in votes, with peaks in La Coruña, Lugo and León, where the PSOE grew by about 15 percentage points.

The PP experienced a resounding defeat in absolute and percentage terms. In the constituencies where it had a majority, the distances from the PSOE were considerably reduced or overtaking occurred. In summary, the socialists obtained 43.27% of the votes and won 164 deputies, against respectively 34.16% and 125 seats in 2000. The popular fell to 38.31% of the votes and 148 deputies, against 44, 52% and 183 seats from previous general elections. With the PSOE, the only grouping that gained votes was Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) which, maintaining the extraordinary positions achieved in November 2003 in the Catalan autonomous elections, elected 8 deputies from one that had one. The Partido nacionalista vasco (PNV), the Chunta Aragonesista and Eusko Alkartasuna kept their seats,

The socialist candidate won, in terms of consensus, more votes than all his predecessors did: neither Felipe González in the 1982 elections, with 10,127,392 votes, nor José María Aznar in 2000, with 10,321,178 votes, they had received the preferences that Rodríguez Zapatero brought home on the evening of March 14: 11,026,163.

Let us now consider some particular cases. In the Basque Country, compared to the policies of 2000, the PNV confirmed the 7 seats with a slight percentage increase; the other nationalist formation, Eusko Alkartasuna, kept his seat; the PP lost 3 with a percentage decrease of over 10 points; the socialists earned 3, growing by more than 3 percentage points. In Catalonia the socialists went from 34.13% and 17 deputies in 2000 to 39.50% of the votes and 21 deputies, increasing by more than 7 percentage points even compared to the elections for the Catalan Parliament of 16 November 2003, when they did not go over 31.07%. The popular fell from 22.79% and 12 seats in 2000 to 15.53% and the current 6 seats. All this while in the vote for the Regional Parliament of Andalusia, expressed on March 14,

After counting the votes, there was no shortage of the most reckless comments. In fact, more elsewhere than in Spain we have heard of an emotional vote and the victory of terrorism, even double in the aftermath of Rodríguez Zapatero’s announcement that he would have anticipated the withdrawal of the Spanish contingent from the Iraqi theater of operations, originally planned for the 30 June 2004. But these were biased observations that were not reflected in the investigation carried out by the governmental Centro de investigaciones sociológicas (CIS) after the political elections, from the results of which it is clear that the attack would not have had an impact at all. for 71.3% of the interviewees, it would have affected little for 7%, enough for 11.4% and a lot for 10.1%. Asked about the meaning of this influence, on the 21st, 9% of those interviewed who had recognized some influence on their vote of the events of 11 March replied that they felt compelled to vote, when they had not previously thought about doing so; 13.5% replied that they had changed their vote and 53.8% that they felt strengthened in their intention to vote previously. From these data it is possible to come to the conclusion that the attacks affected above all the turnout and in two directions: by encouraging socialist voters to go to vote and by discouraging a number of popular voters. Finally, the responses to the question addressed to the voters of the PP and the PSOE on the influence of the attacks were significant. As a result, only 1,

Aimed at establishing the influence of the attacks, however, the investigation failed to probe the weight and role that political management had on the vote in terms of information about the attacks.

Without being able to exclude that a part of the voters, in the light of the tragic events, have actually reconsidered the goodness of the choice made by the people’s government to support Bush’s Iraqi policy and have expressed their discomfort or not going to vote (in the case of the voter of the PP) or going there (in the case of the voter previously disappointed with the PSOE) or changing their vote from the PP to the PSOE, the fact remains that the interviewees did not have the opportunity to clarify whether what influenced their vote was the attacks or the response and interpretation provided by the government.

Spain - The Attacks and the Elections