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Legal rulings support demonstrators

Election board couldn't stop protests following 2004 Madrid train bombings

Central Electoral Board members on Thursday studied a host of legal arguments and court rulings to help them decide whether to evict demonstrators camped out in Madrid's Puerta del Sol.

One of the key arguments race officials brooded over was whether to allow demonstrators to keep their vigil on Saturday, the day before the ballot, which under the law is considered "the day for reflection" when all campaigning must stop.

As protestors braced for the ruling and organizers met to decide whether to defy a ban, the people in Puerta del Sol and their supporters were reminded that there was a legal precedent that could back the movement. In 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled that demonstrations can be held during an election race so long as their abilities to affect the race are "remote."

In that case, the argument centered on a demonstration that was organized to celebrate International Women's Day in 2008 in Andalusia, where regional elections were scheduled for the following day. In overturning a lower court's ban, the justices ruled that the "mere possibility" of infringing on voters' rights cannot outweigh the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and right to assembly.

For its part, the Central Electoral Board has only issued one ruling to date in a similar instance. It occurred after a number of sudden marches and demonstrations popped up in front of PP headquarters and offices all over Spain just 48 hours after the 2004 Madrid terrorist train bombings, which left 191 dead and nearly 2,000 injured and were carried out just days before the general elections.

The board then prohibited Spaniards from holding any rallies on the "day for reflection" that "could be considered akin to an electoral campaign." However, despite the ruling, security forces did not intervene in any of the marches that took place.

While the Socialists are braced for big losses on Sunday, another party believes that the protests will help them at the polls. United Left (IU) officials predict that the discontent with the ruling Socialists and the anger over the rash of corruption charges sweeping the PP may increase votes for its candidates for local positions by as much as four percentage points.