Spain's Socialists suffer spectacular election rout

23rd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain's ruling Socialists reeled Monday from an unprecedented mauling in local elections as protesters vented their anger over the highest jobless rate in the developed world.

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

Support for the government collapsed on Sunday in the face of the beleaguered economy, soaring unemployment and massive week-long street protests.

"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 was hoping to open the way to the prime minister's office."

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

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez 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.

Three years of economic crisis took their toll, said Zapatero, who has promised not to stand for a third term in 2012.

"It destroyed thousands of jobs. It is a crisis that had profound effects on citizens' morale. I know that many Spaniards suffer great hardship and fear for their futures.

"Today, without doubt, they expressed their discontent," he said.

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.

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.

"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.

Demonstrators had packed city squares from Barcelona to the holiday island of Majorca, refusing to budge as they accused the major Spanish parties of leading the country to economic ruin.

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

Hundreds remained on Monday as the organisers tried to maintain the momentum generated by the elections.

The spontaneous popular protests, slickly organized via Twitter and Facebook since May 15, were the largest since Spain's property bubble collapsed in 2008 destroying millions of jobs.

Even as the economy grew gingerly this year, the unemployment rate shot to 21.19 percent in the first quarter, the highest in OECD club of industrialised nations. For under-25s, the rate in February was 44.6 percent.

Protesters describe themselves as "the indignant", and are known variously as "M-15" in reference to their demonstration's birth date, "Spanish Revolution" and "Real Democracy Now".

In the northern semi-autonomous Basque Country, a new alliance of separatist parties unexpectedly beat the Socialists into third place in municipal elections, prompting cries of alarm in the Spanish press Monday.

© 2011 AFP

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