Spain's Socialists look to the future after vote drubbing

23rd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain's ruling Socialists Monday vowed to stage a dramatic comeback for 2012 general elections after being crushed in local polls by voters angered over soaring unemployment.

The party of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in power since 2004, suffered an unprecedented mauling in the regional and municipal elections on Sunday.

With all ballots counted, the Socialists had captured just under 28 percent of the total compared to 37 percent for the opposition right-wing Popular Party.

Support for the government collapsed in the face of the beleaguered economy, the highest unemployment rate in the developed world and massive week-long street protests which continued on Monday.

The rout was a grim omen for the party ahead of general elections due by next March, when the conservative Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy is widely expected to romp into office after eight years in opposition.

"The tsunami of May 22 drowns the Socialists," said the centre-left El Pais, Spain's leading daily.

"The PP has more regional power than ever," the paper added. "The triumph of the party of Mariano Rajoy was indisputable, overwhelming, as he had hoped for to open the way to the prime minister's office."

Zapatero refused to contemplate calling snap elections, vowing to pursue reforms to fix the economy and expand employment until the end of his mandate, due March 2012.

The party's deputy secretary general, Jose Blanco, sought to rally the party.

"Now is not the time to mourn but to get up," he told a news conference on Monday following a party meeting to analyse the results.

"Now is not the time to founder but to look to the future... It's true that many citizens denied us their support yesterday, but we know that the vast majority want us to give them reasons to trust us again in the next election," he said.

"The government will work to achieve economic recovery and the party will wor to regain public confidence and win the next general election."

He also announced that the Socialists on Saturday would launch the process of finding a new party leader to replace Zapatero, who said last month he would not seek a third mandate.

More than 66 percent of the 34 million elegible voters cast ballots to choose 8,116 mayors, 68,400 town councillors and 824 members of regional parliaments for 13 of the 17 semi-autonomous regions.

Of the 13 regional parliaments up for grabs, the Socialists were outvoted in every one, including former stronghold Castilla-La Mancha, but should cling on in Extramadura as part of a left-wing coalition.

Grinding in the humiliation, Socialists lost historic bastions Seville and Barcelona, a city they had run since the first municipal vote in 1979 four years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

"Today is a beautiful day for our party. We have achieved the best result in our history in municipal and regional elections," PP leader Rajoy told cheering supporters waving blue party flags outside the Madrid headquarters Sunday night.

Demonstrators had packed city squares throughout the country for the past week, refusing to budge as they accused the major Spanish parties of leading Spain to economic ruin.

In a plastic-covered protest camp in central Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, the epicentre of the movement, thousands rallied late Sunday after activists vowed to stay put until Sunday at least.

The spontaneous popular protests were the largest since Spain's property bubble collapsed in 2008 plunging the country into recession destroying millions of jobs.

Even as the economy grew timidly this year, the unemployment rate shot to 21.29 percent in the first quarter, the highest in the OECD club of industrialised nations. For under-25s, the rate in February was 44.6 percent.

© 2011 AFP

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