Were Spanish politicians right to stop campaigning?

  • Mark Mardell
  • 8 Mar 08, 08:22 AM

It was an emotional looking Zapatero who clasped his Basque socialists comrades as he arrived in the north. All Spanish parties had agreed to call off the final hours of campaigning because of the murder of a former Socialist councillor. Everyone assumes Eta were to blame.

The leader of the conservative PP has also been to the home town of the murdered man to meet his widow. Senior politicians are likely to attend the funeral later today. They immediately called off campaigning and cancelled planned rallies.

I have no way of knowing if every door knocker and leafleter ceased their activity. And in fact because no campaigning is allowed today they have only forfeited a couple of hours of coverage.

As I write Spanish TV is replaying solemn statements from the two leaders, although Spanish law forbids them to broadcast ordinary political statements.

In the Spanish Parliament other leaders gathered to issue a statement condemning the killing and showing solidarity against Eta, which not issued any statement claiming to have committed the murder.

But was it right to react in such a way?

Politicians are always quick to say that terrorism will not influence them. Yet whether it is introducing harsher laws or starting peace talks, it does. But in this case have the Spanish politicians sent out the wrong signals?

It is understandable why they have reacted as they did. After the terrible bombing that killed a 191 people three days before the last election it raised awful memories. When the conservatives blamed Eta rather than Islamists it seemed to change the result. This time they wanted to show dignity and unity.

This was also the first Eta murder on Spanish soil for two years so it wasn’t merely the continuation of a long running campaign. Of course it is right to pay tribute to the murdered man and attempt words of comfort to his family. But won’t the murderer be sitting at home, watching TV, chuckling that he can jerk the strings of a nation? Is it right to cancel the normal democratic process?

I am glad my job is to raise questions not take decisions that answer them.

By the way, in reply to some e-mails I have got I take it the lack of comments on recent items is a technical problem rather than a boycott campaign. It's as frustrating for me as for you (my questions are not rhetorical) and we are trying to fix it.

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