Prime Minister of Spain Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has called a general election for March 9th.

King Juan Carlos has given his approval. While the campaign proper runs for the two weeks leading up to the poll, in effect political parties have been electioneering for months.

While some polls show the incumbent Socialists a few points ahead of their main conservative rivals Paritdo Popular, most have them tied.

Asking the Spanish people for another term in office, Mr Zapatero said:

“We have a great country. We are a great country. We deserve the best of futures and we are prepared for it.”

Just last week PP made a bid for conservative and Catholic votes by promising to establish a new “family” ministry if they win the elections.

The government was elected in the aftermath of the 2004 Madrid train bombings in which 191 people were killed by Muslim extremists.

It has legalised same-sex marriage, eased divorce laws and repeatedly clashed with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church has been accused of interfering in the political process in recent months.

At the end of December Pope Benedict XVI addressed a “family values” rally in Madrid by a videolink from Rome.

He told the crowd, estimated at 150,000 people, that the family is “based on the unbreakable union of man and woman and represents the privileged environment where human life is welcomed and protected from the beginning to its natural end.”

The rally was supported by PP.

The Archbishop of Mardid claimed that the government’s family policy was a retrograde step for human rights.

Despite their appeals to devout Spaniards and their conservative stance, PP has not indicated they intend to amend or abolish gay marriage should they come to power.

They have concentrated on proposing tax cuts for businesses those on low incomes, while the government has pledged to create 1.6 million new jobs.

Last week deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a gathering of legislators that Spain “does not need to be lectured about morals” and accused the Roman Catholic hierarchy of lacking respect for the democratic process and the government.

“This administration respects freedom of expression and the right to criticise, but it will not tolerate the ecclesiastical hierarchy lacking respect for the government and parliament and being dishonest,” she said.