Spain's ruling Socialists defeated in Catalonia
Voters hammered Spain's ruling Socialists over a biting economic crisis Sunday, turfing them from power in Catalonia in a bad omen for 2012 national elections, an exit poll showed.
Catalans gave an overwhelming 63-66 seats to a moderate nationalist party, the Convergence and Union, and just 24-27 for the Catalan Socialist Party, said an exit poll by TV3 station.
It was the worst result in the 32-year history of the Catalan Socialist Party, which has been in power since 2003.
The regional Socialist Party spokesman, Miquel Iceta, conceded defeat minutes after a poll showed the coalition had lost at least 10 seats, saying now was the time to reflect and help resolve the economic crisis.
A man in the crowd threw an egg but missed the spokesman as he admitted the loss.
The result is a serious setback for the central government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, battling market fears that Spain could follow Greece and Ireland in seeking a humiliating EU bailout.
Spain's economy was hard hit by the bursting of a massive property bubble and the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, and is now suffering an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent and recorded zero economic growth in the third quarter.
In response to the crisis, the central government has introduced tough but unpopular austerity measures and labour reforms.
The northeastern region, home to around seven million of Spain's population of some 47 million, has long accounted for the biggest share of its gross domestic product.
But data published in March by Spanish think tank Funcas showed that in 2009 Madrid had for the first time accounted for the biggest share of the country's economic output, 18.71 percent, just ahead of Catalonia's 18.68 percent.
In terms of revenue per capita it remained in fourth place among Spain's 17 autonomous communities -- as the country's self-governed regions are called -- behind the Basque Country, Madrid and Navarra.
Being overtaken by Madrid hurt regional pride in Catalonia, where a sizeable minority would like to see the region, which has its own language and distinct culture, break away from Spain.
At the same time, output by the Catalan economy, built on small- and medium-sized businesses, dropped 4.7 percent last year according to Funcas, compared to decline of 3.8 percent for Spain as a whole.
The northeastern region, which boasts a bigger budget that Chile's, also pushed up its direct and indirect debt by 24.2 percent over a year to 29.5 billion euros as of the end of June.
A recent poll by the CEO institute showed that unemployment was the main concern for 40 percent of Catalans.
The moderate nationalist CiU, which held power for 23 years until 2003, is also benefiting from anger over changes to a charter approved by the Spanish parliament in 2006 and which gave Catalonia sweeping powers.
Spain's Constitutional Court in June struck down several articles of the charter that expanded the already significant powers of self rule of the Catalan government, sparking mass protests in the region.
The court's ruling "was seen as an attack on popular sovereignty", said Ferran.
If the exit poll proves correct, it would mean the CiU landed just short of the 68 seats required for an absolute majority in 135-seat Catalan regional parliament.
Some 5.4 million people were eligible to cast ballots at 2,721 polling stations. Turnout was 61 percent, according to the TV3 exit poll.
© 2010 AFP