Zapatero’s surprise victory in 2004 followed a fear-mongering attempt by the then governing centre-right People’s Party to blame the Madrid train bombings on Basque separatists, ETA (as the People’s Party knew, Islamic radicals were really to blame). The Spanish public rejected this opportunistic attempt to drive a wedge between the Basque and other Spaniards (mostly of the Left) who are sympathetic to their desire for greater autonomy.
Zapatero’s first term was enormously popular. He took on powerful reactionary institutions like the People’s Party and the Catholic Church and made courageous stands on the international stage. Achievements include withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, putting in place educational reforms that will make the system more secular and modern, legislating same-sex marriage and adoption, giving an amnesty to illegal immigrants, raising the minimum wage, strengthening powers to fight domestic violence, a smacking ban, and easing regional tensions including holding talks with ETA. They have also taken a lead role on climate change; Spain installed more wind generation capacity last year than any country save Germany and the US.
The economy was the dominant election issue. Growth was strong during Zapatero’s first term but a slowing housing market, rising prices for food and petrol and stock-market instability, all of which are down to international factors beyond Spain’s control, darkened the mood. The People’s Party ran a highly critical campaign but was unable to articulate any credible solutions.
Ultimately, there was a slight shift to the right but the Spanish public rewarded Zapatero with another term. Look for more world-leading policies from this centre-left government in coming years.