After a long dry spell, there's bloggable stuff today! La Vanguardia is reporting that outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar will call general elections for March 14. His People's Party, led by his successor Mariano Rajoy, is expected to march to an easy victory, most likely scoring the PP's second straight absolute majority. Just in case Rajoy can't pull it off, Convergence and Union has been driven into the PP's arms by its exclusion from the Catalan regional government and would likely vote with the PP on most issues, though it probably wouldn't join a coalition--unless the rewards offered were very high.
Rumor has it that Aznar's future plans--he's still quite young and apparently in excellent health--include either the presidency of the European Union, a post I would be greatly relieved to see him in, or the secretary-generalship of the UN. Whatever, he is leaving the party and turning it over completely to Rajoy. This is something that Socialist former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez failed to do with his own party; after he was defeated for reelection by Aznar in 1996, Felipe held onto his parliamentary seat in the Congress of Deputies. This meant that Felipe was still, if not actually running the party, a very important figure within it, and none of his successors (Almunia, Borrell, Almunia again, and Zapatero) has been able to build themselves up publicly as undisputed party leader; also, much of the real power in the party, who got appointed to what job, remained in the hands of Felipe rather than his successors. Felipe is finally going away this year; he will not run for Parliament again. During the last four years' term he's set an all-time record for absenteeism. He doesn't give a damn anymore and let's hope he's gone for good.
I say "let's hope" because I really believe that a two-party system is the healthiest kind for a country to have, and in order for it to work properly both of the leading parties have to be strong and capable and responsible. Right now Spain does not have a responsible opposition party. The Socialists are a disorganized joke with nothing positive to contribute to the political discussion, and they're seen that way even by people who dislike the (personally quite dislikeable) Aznar. This is good for the PP in the short run, and I'm happy about it since it means that we'll have competent leadership over the next four years. But it's bad for the health of democracy in the long run to have a weak second party over the long term.
I actually see the political situation in the US and Spain as being quite similar. In both countries you have a popular conservative leader (let's telescope Aznar and Rajoy into the same person, since Rajoy is going to run a "you've never had it so good as with the PP" campaign) who is hated by the hard left. Said hard left is moving for control of the opposition party, and a few "right-wing" members of the opposition have switched over to the governmental party. The followers of the hard left are all very intense, but there just aren't that many of them, and they'll never be able to beat the majority, who are pretty content in both countries. But the hard left's absolute hatred for the conservative leader is their real motivation in opposing him so strongly. Prediction: A conservative win in Spain in March and a conservative win in America in October, with the leftist party sunk in mutual recrimination at least until 2008. Prediction number two: If Howard Dean wins the Democrat nomination, Joe Lieberman will vote for Bush. He won't say anything about it, and it's a secret ballot so we'll never really know, but Mr. Lieberman and possibly Mr. Gephardt know in their hearts that this guy is dangerous both for the party and the country.