Spain's ruling party makes employment key poll plank
The Spanish ruling party's candidate for prime minister in polls next month, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, pledged Sunday to cut record unemployment and shield education and health care from spending cuts.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced last year he would not seek a third term and Rubalcaba, who served as interior minister and deputy prime minister, is the Socialists' candidate for the November 20 poll.
"Employment is a big national problem, it is the best of causes that we can defend," he told the closing session of a three-day party congress held to outline his election programme.
Spain has the highest unemployment rate among developed nations with joblessness pegged at a record 20.89 percent, following the collapse of a labour-intensive property boom in 2008.
Zapatero's government has also had to adopt unpopular austerity measures such as cuts to civil servant wages to rein in Spain's public deficit and calm market fears that the country will need a financial bailout.
Pollsters predict the election will be won by the conservative opposition Popular Party.
A survey late last month in the Catalan daily El Periodico said if the election were held now, the Popular Party would capture an absolute majority in parliament while the Socialists would score their worst results ever.
Rubalcaba also attacked the Popular Party, in power in several of Spain's autonomous regions, for sweeping budget cuts in education and health care.
"Where have they found this bad idea that to kickstart the economy it is necessary to make cuts in education and health care and reduce vital public services?" he said.
He pledged to slash the fiscal deficit, which stood at 9.24 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2010 and targeted to be reduced to 6 percent this year, by fighting fiscal fraud and other measures.
Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, 56, who lost twice to Zapatero, in 2004 and 2008, has vowed to lower taxes on businesses to revive the economy and fight unemployment if he is elected.
The official election campaign period will from from November 4 to 18.
© 2011 AFP