Terrorists can swing elections

Spain has exposed the weaknesses of electoral democracies to the terrorists. If democracies do not take enough care, terrorists may exploit these to their advantage.

The erstwhile Spanish government led by the conservative Aznar was hard on the Basque separatist terrorists ETA, but was totally unprepared to consider Al Qaeda as a suspect. That miscalculation cost his party the election it was so expected to win.

It is yet too early to say who was behind the blasts; ETA’s disclaimer and Al Qaeda’s claims are both unsubstantiated and are equally (im)plausible. But what it has certainly demonstrated is that well timed terrorist operations can swing electoral decisions. Aznar’s close alliance with Bush over Iraq was blamed as a reason for attracting Al Qaeda’s vengeance. If so, it demonstrates society’s weakness and puts the terrorists one up – which is pathetic (via Insults Unpunished). However, it is more likely that the Spanish voter punished the government for underestimating the Al Qaeda threat.

There are important learning points here for those who are going up for elections later this year. If there is an attack by Pakistan-based jehadis on Indian territory, the implications for BJP government would be serious. Another hit in the United States may shake public faith George Bush’s anti-terror credentials.

A lot rests on Vajpayee & Co returning to power in India – and that could be jeopardised if India lets down its guard at this time. This is a time for heightened vigilance.

Update: One of the first actions of the incoming Spanish government was to announce the withdrawal troops from Iraq. Abiola is right – between shame and war, the new Spanish government has chosen shame, but war will follow anyway.

Edward Hugh, who is based in Spain, has an ‘insider’ perspective and suggests that the (US) media has been oversimplifying the electoral verdict – Spaniards are not soft on terror, and the Socialist PSOE leadership is pragmatic when it comes to foreign policy.