Spanish right wins election by landslide: exit poll
Spain's right stormed to a landslide election victory Sunday, an exit poll said, as voters toppled yet another eurozone government engulfed in a deepening debt crisis.
Bowed by a 21.5 percent jobless rate, a stalled economy and spending cuts, the 36 million-strong electorate ended the Socialists' seven-year rule with a shattering defeat, the exit poll showed.
Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party took an absolute majority of between 181 and 185 seats in the 350-member Congress of Deputies, said projections based on an exit poll by public broadcaster RTVE.
The ruling Socialist party PSOE won between 115 and 119 seats, the poll said.
If the exit poll is correct, Rajoy will have a free hand to ram through severe austerity measures in the eurozone's fourth biggest economy.
Spain is the fifth and last of the so-called periphery eurozone nations to ditch its government this year after Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy.
Though considered uncharismatic, Rajoy won support from voters lured by his promise to fix the economy and create jobs, even if it means more austerity.
He vowed to make cuts "everywhere", except for pensions, so as to meet Spain's target of cutting the public deficit to 4.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 from 9.3 percent last year.
Octavio Arginano, a retired 67-year-old factory worker, said he voted for the right for the first time in his life.
"My son has been unemployed for over a year, my daughter earns just 600 euros ($800) a month looking after young children," he said as he left a polling station in the Madrid neighbourhood of Lavapies.
"There has to be a change although I am not sure anyone knows what to do to get us out of this situation."
Analysts say the victor, who will be sworn in from December 20, must quickly impose reforms to reassure world markets.
Spain's risk premium -- the extra interest rate investors demand to buy Spanish compared with safe-haven German debt -- shot to a euro-era high of more than 500 basis points in the days ahead of the vote.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government was blamed for reacting late to the 2008 property market implosion, which combined with a global financial crisis to throw millions out of work.
As his government battled to cut back spending and avoid a disastrous loss of confidence by the debt markets, it cut public sector wages by an average 5.0 percent, froze pensions and raised the retirement age from 65 to 67.
Zapatero called the election four months early to give a new government the chance to confront the crisis. After two terms and nearly eight years in office, he decided not to run again.
A nationwide protest movement erupted in May 2011 to vent anger over the high jobless rate and political corruption.
Hundreds of "indignant" protesters rallied in Madrid in the days before the election and analysts say many more may flood the streets next year if the cuts go even deeper.
© 2011 AFP