Crisis-torn Spain to give huge election victory to right

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Spain's right is romping towards a record win in general elections Sunday, polls agree, as voters lash the ruling Socialists for welfare cuts and a 22.5-percent jobless rate.

After more than seven years of Socialist government and three years of economic crisis, the 36-million-strong electorate has turned.

The opposition conservative Popular Party, led by 56-year-old Mariano Rajoy, seems headed for victory on a scale unprecedented since Spain returned to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975.

A total 45.4 percent of voters back the Popular Party compared to just 30.9 percent for the Socialists, said a survey of 9,675 people by Metroscopia in the centre-left daily El Pais.

That would give the Popular Party 192-196 lawmakers, an absolute majority of the 350-seat lower house Congress of Deputies.

A poll by Sigma for centre-right daily El Mundo gave 47.6 percent to the Popular Party and 29.8 percent to the Socialists. Such a result would deliver a historic 198 seats to the Popular Party.

The Socialists' 60-year-old standard bearer Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba has put on a brave face but for months there has been little doubt in Spain about the election outcome.

After coming to power in 2004 in the midst of a property boom, the Socialists presided over the 2008 housing bubble collapse, which plunged Spain into recession and destroyed millions of jobs.

In the third quarter of 2011 the jobless rate was 21.52 percent overall, and 45.8 percent for under 25s. A total of nearly five million people were out of work.

After the eurozone storm swept aside the Italian and Greek governments, the Spanish Socialists are all but certain to be next to fall, said politics professor Anton Losada of Santiago de Compostela University.

"This crisis devours whoever governs, right or left, because governing in these past four years in Europe has meant giving bad news, every day, to everyone," he added.

"The simple fact of being in government transforms you into a candidate for defeat."

Austerity measures announced since May 2010, such as a five-percent salary cut for civil servants, a pension freeze and raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, fed widespread discontent.

The result was the "indignant" protest movement denouncing poverty, political corruption and the power of bankers.

A week ahead of the election, the movement that mobilized tens of thousands of people in spring mounted only a modest demonstration Sunday in Madrid, perhaps a sign of voters' resignation.

"Whoever we vote for, the markets will come in afterwards and do what they did in Italy and Greece, put in who they choose," said Concepcion Gomez, a 57-year-old female protester.

The grim outlook has eclipsed all other electoral debate, with the economy showing no growth in the third quarter and threatening to slip back into recession.

Under the slogan "Join the Change", Rajoy has denounced the economic credentials of the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has decided not to run again.

The Socialists' Rubalcaba has tried to paint himself as the defender of public services such as health and education, already subject to cuts in regions run by the right.

"The key, fundamental factor is the crisis, which has let to a complete loss of confidence in Zapatero," said political analyst Josep Ramoneda, pointing to the first austerity plan of May 2010 as the start of the slide.

Besides the Socialist Party and the Popular Party, about 20 other regional and national parties contest Sunday's vote. But many of them stand no chance because of a complex system favouring big and regional parties.

© 2011 AFP

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