Spanish voters angry, wary over crisis

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Spaniards vented anger with their government over an economic crisis and towering jobless rate as they voted Sunday in rain-soaked general elections.

But some were also wary of conservative leader Mariano Rajoy, expected to win by a landslide on a promise of breaking with the past and fixing the economy with even tougher austerity measures.

Polls released ahead of the election showed the 56-year-old Rajoy and his Popular Party heading to a crushing win over the Socialist party PSOE and a likely absolute majority in parliament.

Octavio Arginano, a retired 67-year-old factory worker, said he voted for the right for the first time in his life because of the crisis, with nearly five million out of work and a jobless rate of 21.5 percent.

"My son has been unemployed for over a year, my daughter earns just 600 euros ($800) a month looking after young children," he said after voting at a school under grey and rainy skies 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."

Despite anger at their economic hardship, voters said they were under few illusions about Rajoy, who has promised to make cuts "everywhere" except in pensions in order to rein in Spain's deficit.

"The PP has no merit, it is just benefitting from the fact that a change is needed," said Maria Jose Ruiz, 61, an unemployed beautician in small glasses and spotless make-up.

"But I am still going to vote for them, out of exasperation," she added.

Some disillusioned voters rejected both big parties.

"I am going to cast a blank ballot for the first time," said 46-year-old schoolteacher Fernando Javier Alvarez, sheltering under an umbrella at a voting station in a school in southern Madrid.

"The PSOE made five million people unemployed and lied to us about the economic crisis," Alvarez said. "But Mariano can't solve Spain's big problems either."

The Socialists are accused of mishandling the collapse of Spain's building boom, which dragged it from strong growth into recession and threw millions out of work, such as unemployed construction worker and PP voter Marco Gonzalez, 38.

"We have to kick the Socialists out for there to be work again," he said.

The tough spending cuts begun by the Socialists are expected to deepen if a conservative government takes over, as it seeks to reassure world markets about Spain's determination to repay its debts.

Juan Cuadrado, a 28-year-old university student, said he stayed faithful to the Socialists despite the bleak economic situation after their seven years in power.

"They made mistakes, but I feel they made an effort to maintain social protection like unemployment insurance," he said, leaving a Madrid polling station in a black raincoat.

"I don't believe the Popular Party is going to do that."

Maria del Carmen Romero, 65, said she has "never had any doubt" about voting Socialist, even though her husband's pension has been frozen and her daughter, a schoolteacher, had her salary cut by five percent under crisis measures.

"The government has had no option but to handle the crisis this way. It is a worldwide crisis," she said.

Another voter, Eduardo Barrera, said the parties' room for manoeuvre had been constricted by the economy.

"It's the economy that is in charge now," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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