Luis Rodriguez Zapatero brought the Socialists from the political
wilderness to a spectacular polls victory on Sunday and will now
need his cool head and calm temper to unite Spain after its worst
Rodriguez Zapatero, who until Thursday's bombing was considered
an outsider for Spain's top job, had angered many in his own party
with his lack of aggression in the months after he took the leadership
in 2000 following a heavy electoral defeat.
But his tendency to compromise may prove a valuable asset as he
looks to form a government with left-wing allies or regional parties.
It may also help Spain heal the scars from Thursday's train bombings
which killed 200 people and injured some 1,500. The attack appeared
to have played a crucial role in a big poll swing to the Socialists,
stirring anger at the ruling Popular Party's handling of the investigation
and at outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's commitment to
the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
One of Zapatero's first acts as prime minister could be the withdrawal
of 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq. He has promised to pull them
out if the United Nations does not take charge in Iraq by the end
The unflappable Zapatero, who became
Spain's youngest member of parliament at 26, then faces a tougher
task as his government will need to appease powerful Catalan and
Basque nationalists keen to wrestle more power from Madrid.
The 43-year-old will also need to court Spain's unions and old-style
socialists and keep the loyalty of powerful barons who control the
regional branches of his party.
Zapatero is often compared to Britain's "Third Way" advocate,
Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The law student has stuck to a policy of "calm change"
instead of rupture with old school
"He is a 15-round fighter, the kind that gets into trouble
in the first four rounds, and then gradually takes over," Manuel
Garcia, his former law professor, told El Pais newspaper.