The Lung Brothers

Hanging out at the extreme end of the long tail ...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Spanish Elections for Dummies

This Sunday the fine Kingdom of Spain will be electing this next government and since Latin politics are so darn entertaining, I thought I’d give a brief refresher course on the whole gig. In layman’s terms you understand. If you want an in-depth, well researched article about this Iberian electoral clash, get up off your arse and go buy the Economist.

In order to appreciate this face-off to the fullest, one would really need a bit of background.

Crash Course in Recent Spanish Political History:

1975 – Franco Dies. (Yippee!)

The whole country stands around nonchalantly whistling because nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen. The Generalisimo had been grooming another military strongman to succeed him but a couple of years earlier ETA had had the presence of mind to assassinate the poor bugger with a landmine in Madrid. (The blast was so strong that it blew this guy’s chauffeur driven limo over a four-storey building and into the patio on the other side. He has since gained the nickname the ‘grasshopper’).

Franco had also been grooming the young prince Juan Carlos to take over as the figurehead of the nation. But what the Caudillo didn’t figure on was that even a cousin-marrying Bourbon could see that the writing was on the wall for a totalitarian state in modern Europe. Nonetheless, the liberals and intellectuals had to usher in democracy very slowly and gently over several years, making sure not to upset the old guard too much. This period is known as the ‘transition’. The only big hiccup was that failed military coup in 1981 when some colonel tried to take over the country. You might remember the footage of the fascist little prick shooting his pistol in the air in the Madrid parliament. But the coup petered out and the tin pot Napoleon went to jail, ha-fucking-ha.

OK where was I? Oh yeah. There was an interim government for a few years lead by a rather dashing moderate conservative called Suarez. Then in their first democratic elections in 1982, the Spanish voiced their backlash against right wing tyranny by voting in the socialists lead by one Felipe Gonzalez. At this time Spain, after more than 40 years of dictatorship, was frankly a backward shit hole. So it had nowhere to go but up and life for the average Dago began to improve.

Politically Shooting Oneself in the Foot – A Spanish Pastime

The problem was that political parties who stay in power for too long tend to stagnate. Granted this is something an average Italian wouldn’t understand as their governments tend to last about as long as an episode of Friends but we’re talking about Spain here. After 14 years leading the country, the socialist party was beset by scandals – political favours, bribes and even a secret branch of the police who went about furtively bumping off supposed members of ETA. (A third of the victims were innocent – cases of mistaken identity – but hey shucks nobody’s perfect!) This era of corruption became known as ‘felipismo’. Go figure.

So in 1996, the lefties lost the elections to the conservatives who were lead by a repulsive moustacheod dwarf named Aznar. Imagine a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Gollum. I suppose it was a good thing to shuffle the establishment around a little, but did they have to hang around for ‘two’ terms? I could never understand that vile little man’s popularity.

The seeds of the conservative’s downfall were sown in their second term. It should be mentioned that the party always tried to project the image of being tough on ETA and all forms of domestic terrorism. Aznar had also become a world class ass-kisser to that Whitehouse simpleton Bush and quasi-Tory whore Blair. So when these two fools decided to enter into an Iraqi war that had the word ‘quagmire’ written on it in big red neon letters, Aznar their faithful puppy dog, dutifully followed. He did this, I might add, against the wishes of 90% of the Spanish population.


On the morning of the 11th of March, 2004, four days before the Spanish general elections, ten backpack bombs ripped through four crowded trains belonging to the Madrid local rail service. The wagons, made from tough carbon fibre, burst open like tin cans scattering the belongings and limbs of those trapped inside all round the trackside. In all 191 people were killed and the whole country sent into a state of shock. It was the biggest terrorist attack ever committed on Spanish soil. I marched, along with a million others, through the streets of Barcelona in support of the victims and the people of Madrid. To see these Catalans, who usually do nothing but bitch about the nation’s capital, carrying banners stating ‘We Are All From Madrid’, was quite moving to say the least.

Before all this happened the conservatives were actually favourites to win the elections but now they were in a bit of bind. If the bombs were planted by ETA they were in the clear, seeing that they had always come down hard on the Basques. However, if radical Islamists were involved then the electorate might blame them for getting the country into a war that nobody wanted and that probably made Spain a legitimate target for Al Qaeda. So it was vital, in the run up to voting, that people suspect the Basque nationalists or at least harbour doubts about the Islamic connection.

However, something was not right with the ETA theory. No warning? A highly coordinated attack by an organization with its logistical branch in tatters? An act of mindless butchery whose only objective was a maximum body count? ETA denying responsibility? No false licence plates used? Detonators never before used by ETA? There was a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the authors of this outrage were new to Spain.

To call what the conservatives did cynical would be like calling Watergate a trivial faux-pas. There is ample evidence that while the police were finding more and more proof of Islamist involvement, these ministers were making knowingly misleading calls to national newspapers telling them that there were ‘indications’ that ETA was implicated. The Spanish police were not helping, following up on clues in such a rapid and efficient manner. CCTV pictures were shown where the bombers boarded the trains, the mobile phone that was supposed to detonate one of the unexploded bombs was being traced, a small van was found in the car park of one of the stations with bomb making equipment inside and with a cassette of the Koran in its tape deck but the governing party kept insisting on ETA's guilt. This sinister strategy backfired and cost them the election.

The majority of the Spanish electorate, still reeling from such a recent tragedy, saw through the conservative’s ploy and took to the streets to express their fury and disgust. The voter turnout was huge. People flew home in planes just to vote in rage. The socialists comfortably won the day and formed a coalition government. Since then, more evidence has emerged and a month later an Islamic terrorist cell associated with the train bombings blew itself up in a besieged apartment instead of letting itself be captured by the police. Nonetheless, there are still factions of the conservative party who are churning out conspiracy theories involving the Basques, the socialist party and even the Moroccan secret service. Some of them are quite amusing.

Big Sunday.

So who are the players in the Sunday election?

The Socialists – PSOE
Their leader and current prime minister is José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero which is a bit of a mouthful so I think I’ll call him by his nickname ‘Bambi’. You see he’s an unassuming, skinny, gangly guy with big eyes and a sweet Mr. Bean kind of smile. And when you see him giving a speech at a huge political meeting, you can actually imagine him doing the oratorical equivalent of slipping around on a frozen pond with Thumper. It’s a testament to the sorry state the conservatives that Bambi has actually won the two pre-election debates.

He seems like a decent enough guy, as shown by the way he handled Chavez in the ‘Why don’t you shut up!’ incident, and although his government hasn’t exactly been stellar, they haven’t screwed things up either. In fact that could probably be their party's electoral slogan ‘Four More years of Not Fucking Things Up!’.

The Conservatives - PP
Their candidate is Mariano Rajoy, successor to Aznar and according to his followers, theft victim of the last election. The big problem with Rajoy is that he’s got all the charisma of an autistic undertaker. He was a boring, stiff and grumpy looking minister under Aznar and no matter how hard his image consultants try to paint a relaxed confident veneer over his persona, the mildew keeps seeping through. He is your girlfriend’s cranky disapproving father when you were a teenager, he’s the stone-faced ticket collector on the train, he’s a headmaster in a brown corduroy jacket.

I mean it’s not like Bambi is this grand Rooseveltian statesman. For Christ’s sake he’s a socialist and he can’t even form a proper fist. At the end of party conventions, he raises his hand and it looks like he’s holding onto an invisible helium balloon. He is definitely beatable. But with the Undertaker at the helm, I don’t see the PP rallying at the last minute and clawing their way back into power.

The other problem are the tactics used by the conservatives. They are still sore about 2004 and frothing at the mouth to get back on top. As a result of this, their strategy has been to viciously criticize absolutely everything that the government does. They blame the government for a slight economic downturn (even though it has affected all of Europe), they blame the government for the rise in unemployment (although employment has also risen considerably), they blame the government for negotiating with ETA (without proof that this actually happened), they blame the government for greenhouse gasses, for the hunger in Africa, for the fact that it sometimes rains on weekends, for the existence of the bogyman, for the varicose veins in pensioners, for the fact that Spain has never won the world cup etc. I reckon that the electorate has gotten a bit tired of this constant haranguing.

Other parties:
If the Spanish Civil War taught us one thing it is that by their very nature, the right is united and the left is fragmented into various shades of left. One must also consider that Spain is a nation of distinct regions, each with a very autonomous political system and culture. Some of these regions’ nationalist parties can play a decisive role in the nations direction.

So in a nutshell, the minor parties consist of the greens, a couple of parties further to the left of the socialists and a handful of regional hard-hitters. This is important as coalitions are the norm.

Anyway, I’m putting my money on the status quo. A narrow socialist win and a new coalition. Plus ça change.

We’ll see on Monday.

Take your bets, ladies and gentlemen!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

What a Difference a Decade Makes

Once again, this post has been marinating in the cesspool of my hindbrain over the past two weeks until I could find a moment to commit it to text.

The party.

Ah yes, the party.

As mentioned in the previous post our first big February bash occurred ten years ago to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. It was curious to contrast that event with the party of a few of weeks ago. I found the most striking points of comparison were the following:

TEN years ago, a lot more people showed up than were invited. Because naturally, a lot of the people we invited wanted to bring friends along. And very welcome they were, the more the rowdier.
THIS time round a lot fewer people showed up than were invited because some had the flu, some of them had kids who had the flu, some of them had had a tough a week and couldn’t summon the energy to walk out their front door for a bit of weekend leisure and some of them obviously couldn’t handle the stairs with their Zimmer frames.

TEN years ago we had just enough booze to keep the thronging masses at bay and the guests were smart enough to bring along the cheapest booze they could buy. So by the end of the night, the diehard guests were hitting the Andoran counterfit gin, the DYK (pronounced ‘dick’) whiskey and the Moscatel wine that the gay couple had brought along while others were licking the bottom of the Sucker Punch bowl. (ref: previous post)
THIS time round, we were shocked to welcome punters at the front door with bottles of Bombay gin and decent Rioja Crianza wines stuck under their arms. And even more shocking, most of this quality hooch wasn’t even touched! I think we ended up making a net profit with regards to quantity of booze and certainly with regard to quality. Our bodega overfloweth. We could probably throw another two parties with the alcoholic procceds of this one.

TEN years ago, I was young, fit as a fiddle and had only begun going out with my new girlfriend and yet I didn’t notice any woman paying particular interest to me at the February bash.
I am now a slightly overweight, married forty year old with a nipper back in the fold and was pleasantly amazed to discover a couple of the lady guests shamelessly flirting with me. Now let me be clear, this was the highlight of the party for me, getting my dusty old ego shoeshined. Unfortunately it also confirmed that as old as I’ll ever get, I will never understand how women’s minds work let alone their libidos.

TEN years ago the neighbours (who were all invited) were shocked at how much noise we made.
THIS time round the neighbours (who were also all invited) were shocked at how little noise we made.

TEN years ago, it took us half a day to clear up the flat and cart all the empties down to the dumpster.
THIS time round, it took us an hour because a few of our more responsible guests collected and brought down bags of empties before heading home.

And finally…

TEN years ago I would have been really pissed off to have hosted such a mellow, well ordered party.
THIS time round, I’m kind of relieved and grateful.