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.
The result was a blow to the central government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, battling market fears Spain could follow Greece and Ireland in seeking a humiliating EU bailout.
Catalans gave an overwhelming 63-66 seats to a moderate nationalist party, the Convergence and Union, and just 24-27 to the Catalan Socialist Party, said an exit poll by TV3 station.
If the poll proves correct, it would be the worst result in the 32-year history of the Catalan Socialist Party, which has ruled the wealthy northeastern region since 2003.
"Long live Spain. You took away our work!" shouted a man in the crowd as the a Catalan Socialist Party spokesman conceded defeat, throwing an egg which flew just over the official's head.
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.
Zapatero has not yet declared if he will stand as the party's candidate for a third consecutive term in general elections scheduled for early 2012.
Catalonia, 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 in 2009 Madrid for the first time accounted for the biggest share of Spanish economic output, 18.71 percent, just ahead of Catalonia's 18.68 percent, said a report this year by Spanish think tank, Funcas.
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.
With just over 60 percent of the ballots counted, the CiU had 62 seats, short of the 68 seats required for an absolute majority in the 135-seat Catalan parliament, while the Socialist Party had 30 seats.
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, higher than had been expected.
© 2010 AFP