Spanish right celebrates landslide election win

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Spain's right stormed to a landslide election victory Sunday, an exit poll said, sparking dancing in the street by voters desperate for a cure to soaring unemployment.

Winning the biggest majority in its history according to partial results voters handed a crushing defeat to the ruling Socialists after seven years in power.

Spain's was the fifth eurozone government felled this year by the eurozone debt crisis.

Voters gave Mariano Rajoy's right-wing Popular Party 43.5 percent of the vote and an absolute majority of 181-185 seats in the 350-member Congress of Deputies, according to the poll by public broadcaster RTVE.

Hundreds of cheering Popular Party supporters erupted in celebration outside the party's Madrid headquarters, waving blue party flags and grooving to dance music.

Voters punished the government for a 21.5 percent jobless rate, a stalled economy and a mounting debt crisis.

"Spain needed a change. We have had eight years of a failed government," said 16-year-old high school student Jorge Alises who carried a Partido Popular flag as well as a red and yellow Spanish one.

"I have a lot of faith in Rajoy's team. They are very focused on Spain's main problem, which is the economy."

The ruling Socialists won 30 percent of the vote, giving them 115-119 seats, the poll said.

"Once these results are confirmed, a new stage will begin tomorrow in which our sole aim will be to conquer the crisis and unemployment," said the Popular Party's campaign chief Ana Mato.

If the exit poll is proven correct, Rajoy will have a nearly free hand to ram through severe austerity measures in the eurozone's fourth biggest economy.

Spain is the fifth and latest 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.

"This will be a strong change for the whole of Spain," said one celebrating Popular Party supporter, Alicia Borderia, 46, who is unemployed.

"He will take measures to get us out of the crisis and unite us."

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 too 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 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

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