Mixed results for Rajoy in Spanish regional elections

22 Oct

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s right-leaning party on Sunday retained power in his home province of Galicia despite recession and biting austerity measures, an exit poll showed.

If the survey of voters proves accurate, Rajoy has avoided a political humiliation that would have undermined his standing just as he tries to convince world markets that he can fix Spain’s finances and economy.

But a second regional election in the Basque Country, held on the same day, added to the Spanish leader’s challenges as an exit poll showed a new separatist coalition had finished in second place.

The two regional votes came at a critical time for Rajoy, who is agonising over whether and when to snatch a eurozone sovereign rescue to finance the nation’s runaway public debt.

Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) captured 39-42 seats in the 75-seat Galician regional parliament, according to an exit poll carried out by Ipsos for Galician public television.

The PP had been defending a tight but absolute majority in Galicia, Rajoy’s home region, and opinion polls a week before the poll indicated it stood a good chance of success.

Voters apparently decided to stick with Rajoy’s party despite an unemployment rate that has climbed sharply to 21 percent, nearing the national rate of 25 percent.

The economic pain and cuts in education and health are fuelling discontent across the 17 powerful regions.

Those sentiments were especially raw in the Basque Country, holding its first regional vote since armed separatists ETA renounced the use of bombs and guns.

In the Basque Country the separatist Euskal Herria Bildu coalition finished in second place with 23-26 seats out of the 75 up for graps, just behind the conservative Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) which captured 24-27 seats, an Ispos exit poll prepared for Basque public television showed.

The Bildu alliance has filled the space left by the ETA-linked Batasuna party, which was outlawed in 2003.

The big question now is whether the PNV will seek an alliance with Bildu or another party.

Political analysts believe a Basque regional government that includes Bildu will bring questions of Basque independence to the forefront of the political debate.

“If it is with Bildu, the question of (Basque) identity, of ties with Spain, will play a central role in its coalition,” said Anton Losada, political science professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela.

The election was the first since the armed speratist group ETA announced it was giving up violence a year ago.

ETA is blamed for 829 deaths during its four-decade armed campaign for an independent Basque homeland in parts of southern France and in the northern Spanish region, home to 2.2 million people.

Though the Basque unemployment rate is well below the national average, it remains high at 14.5 percent, and central government demands for spending cuts have fed resentment against Madrid.

On October 20, 2011, ETA announced a “definitive end” to its armed activities, but has not formally disarmed or disbanded as the Spanish government demands.

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