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Daily Archives: April 10, 2008

Spain’s Zapatero needs second vote in parliament to become PM

by Daniel Silva*

Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero failed to secure enough parliament votes yestreday to be confirmed as prime minister for a second term and now faces a second ballot where his election is assured.
As expected, the incumbent prime minister, whose Socialist Party won 169 seats in a March 9 general election, was not able to get an absolute majority of lawmakers in the 350-seat assembly to back his candidacy.
He will now have to wait for a second round poll of lawmakers tomorrow when a simple majority — more votes than any other candidate, of whom there are none — will suffice to be confirmed.
The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) which captured 154 seats in the general election voted against Zapatero while smaller Catalan and Basque nationalist parties whose support could have given him a first round victory abstained.
A total of 168 lawmakers voted in favour of Zapatero, 158 voted against him and 23 abstained. One Socialist lawmaker was not in parliament and was therefore unable to vote.
The first round vote followed a parliamentary debate where Zapatero identified the slowing economy and the fight against the armed Basque separatist group ETA as the priorities of his second term.
Speaking to reporters before the vote, Zapatero said he would announce the make up of his new cabinet on Saturday after he is sworn in by King Juan Carlos.
The government has indicated that key members of the outgoing cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Economy Minister Pedro Solbes and Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa de la Vega, will remain in their posts.
Zapatero, 47, is the first prime minister to win a second term in a general election without an absolute majority since Spain returned to democracy following the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
During the debate he said his government would seek agreements with other parties to pass legislation, as he did during the last four-year legislature when the Socialists also lacked an absolute majority in parliament.
Zapatero appealed for a cross-party strategy to combat ETA, which has killed 822 people in its nearly 40-year campaign for an independent Basque nation encompassing parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.
"ETA is weaker than ever but it still has the capacity to kill," he told parliament on Tuesday on the first day of the debate.
Zapatero's first four-year term was marked by confrontation with the PP over his failed attempt to negotiate peace with ETA.
He also vowed to dip into a budget surplus to speed up public works projects to ease the bite of the global credit crunch and rising interest rates on Spain's ounce-buoyant construction sector.
The Bank of Spain predicts the economy will grow by 2.4 percent this year, its lowest rate in over a decade, after expanding 3.8 percent in 2007.
Zapatero also vowed to pass a law aimed at ending discrimination against people of different sexual orientation, ethnic origin or religious beliefs, in his second term as well as new measures to combat domestic violence.
"My idea of Spain is that of a society that does not abandon anyone in adversity. There will be no cuts to social rights, we will continue to expand rights and social policies," he said.
Zapatero's government passed a series of liberal social reforms, including laws allowing same-sex marriages and adoption as well as fast-track divorce that have transformed the Roman Catholic country during its first term.


Two Russian doomsday sect members die

Two members of a sect holed-up in a muddy cave since November in expectation of the world's end have died, a survivor claimed yesterday.
"One person died from cancer, Tamara from Blagoveshchensk. The other was from Belarus and was fasting," Vitaly Nedogon, a sect member who had earlier left the cave, told RTR national television.
Nedogon was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying that the deaths occurred while he was still in the cave, located near the village of Nikolskoye in Penza district, some 700 kilometres southeast of Moscow.
"During our stay two people died. They are buried there," he said.
The authorities said the report — the first of fatalities among the sect — was impossible to confirm.
"The deaths have to be legally proven and that is only possible when everyone leaves the cave and investigators can examine it," Anton Sharonov, a spokesman for the Penza region, said on the Penza government website.
"Vitaly Nedogon is considered a witness until we have proof," he added.
An initial 35 sect members led by their bearded guru, Pyotr Kuznetsov, entered the cavern in November, saying that they would wait for the world to end in May.
Most have gradually emerged, but 11 are believed to still be in the cave and have threatened to blow themselves up with gas canisters if police intervene.