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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 02:23 GMT 03:23 UK
Local impact of Spain's world policies

By Michael Voss
BBC, Madrid

Trinidad Jimenez is dancing with pensioners in a working class district of Madrid.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar at a campaign rally
Aznar's message is that his party is tough on crime and terror
She's the opposition Socialist party's candidate for mayor in the 25 May elections, and believes the party is finally back in step with public opinion.

These may be local elections, but there is widespread anger in Spain at Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for the war in Iraq.

Trinidad is predicting a significant protest vote.

People have forgotten about the war. If the elections had been a month ago they might have remembered, but not anymore
Spanish voter
"People have the chance to say 'no' to Aznar. They disagree with his polices," she says.

"The people in Spain didn't want the war, and they're saying 'no' to him just now."

'Healthy economy'

Across Madrid at a suburban produce market, the governing centre-right Popular Party is campaigning on local bread and butter issues.

Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapat at a campaign rally
Socialists hope to attract a significant protest vote

After eight years in power, the government can boast one of the healthiest economies in Europe, a message that conservative candidate Esperanza Aguirre is trying especially hard to get across.

"People talk about the economy, they also talk about employment, and transport. Transport is a very important issue here."

Mr Aznar may have split the country over Iraq, but he's not seen as a public liability by his own party.

Candidates are more than happy to be seen with him in public.

His most recent campaign visit was with a local candidate to a martial arts training class at a local police academy.

Tough message

The message is that his party is tough on crime and terror.

A man reads graffiti reading in several languages, ETA, Freedom For The Basque Country, in Leiza, northern Spain
Basque separatists have been banned to stand in the poll

After a Spanish restaurant was targeted in the recent bombings in Casablanca, the government is sensitive to accusations that it has made the country a target for terrorists.

"If you say that because you stand against terrorism you make yourself a target, then you are saying we should do exactly nothing and wait till they kill us," Mr Aguirre says.

On the streets of Madrid all the parties have been busy with last minute canvassing, urging people to get out on the streets and vote.

Iraq issue

So what of the impact of the war?

"People have forgotten about the war," one man told me.

"If the elections had been a month ago they might have remembered, but not anymore," he added.

But others definitely haven't forgotten.

"We demonstrated against the war and no one listened. Yes, it will affect the way I vote," another voter told me.

"It's very important, it is a decisive factor. Those against the war wont vote for the ruling party, although I'll abstain. I don't like the opposition either," he added.

The risk for the opposition Socialists is that if they fail to convert public anger into significant electoral gains, the road back to power could prove long and hard.

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