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Spanish Regional Elections a Test to Rajoy's Austerity Policies


Exit polls show mixed results for Spanish PM Rajoy


Exit polls show mixed results for Spanish PM Rajoy

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party retained its majority in a key election in his home region of Galicia, exit polls showed on Sunday, while nationalist parties came out ahead in the Basque Country.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy secured backing for his austerity drive in a vote in his home region of Galicia on Sunday, but a clear win for nationalist parties in the Basque Country could soon prove a headache for the central government.

According to exit polls, Spain’s ruling centre-right People’s Party was set to retain its absolute majority and government in Galicia with 39 to 42 seats in the regional parliament compared with 18 to 20 seats for the Socialist Party and 15 to 18 seats for two nationalist parties. Opinion polls before the vote had indicated the PP would win 39 or fewer seats.

In the Basque Country, the Basque nationalist PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco) was set to win with 24 to 27 seats, compared with 23 to 26 seats for Bildu, a pro-independence party, 13 to 15 seats for the Socialist Party and 9 to 11 seats for the PP.

The vote in Galicia, where austerity steps were taken by the People’s Party even before Rajoy took national office one year ago, had been seen as a referendum on the Spanish government’s handling of the euro zone crisis. The PP has ruled in the region for 24 of the past 31 years.

European officials and analysts said Rajoy wanted to wait until after the election before requesting more European aid because he feared conditions, such as a reform of the pension system, could anger voters.

Rajoy, who received a euro zone pledge in June of up to 100 billion euros to recapitalise a banking sector hit by a burst real estate bubble, said on Friday he had still had not decided whether to request a sovereign bailout. Senior euro zone officials told Reuters they expected an aid request to be made next month.

Spain has fallen into its second recession since 2009 and the International Monetary Fund has forecast the economy will contract by 1.5 percent next year. Unemployment is at 24.6 percent.

The Galician result will give the prime minister some political breathing space after polls showing him losing support amid massive demonstrations against spending cuts in public services and successive tax hikes.

In the Basque Country, the outcome of the vote, as expected, was influenced by recent tensions between central government and the regions on whether to reduce the provinces’ power.

Nationalist parties are also set to win in another regional vote in Catalonia on November 25.

Both regions, where parties advocating a greater autonomy or even full independence will have a majority in the local parliament, will likely provide a fresh challenge to Rajoy’s policies for increased centralisation.

Opposition parties have accused the government of using the crisis to claw back the extensive powers of its 17 autonomous regions, whose overspending was partly to blame for the failure of the country to meet its deficit targets last year.

The central government has offered funding to the regions in exchange of more control over local finances. So far, seven regions, including Catalonia, have said they would tap this liquidity line. The Basque Country is not expected to do so.



First test of Rajoy regime’s austerity policies

AP, October 21, 2012

Two northern regions in Spain were holding elections for their legislatures on Sunday in the first popular test of the central government’s stringent austerity policies since it came to power late last year.

A deepening financial crisis and how best to address the nation’s separatist tensions were the main issues facing political leaders and voters in the turbulent Basque region and in north-western Galicia. With 2.7 million voters, Galicia is a traditional stronghold of the ruling Popular Party and the homeland of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, so an upset there would rock the PP regionally and nationally.

Spain is in its second recession in three years and has near 25 per cent unemployment. The government’s austerity measures have led to protests across the country, some of which have ended in clashes between demonstrators and police. The financial crisis has also brought to the fore calls from some of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions for greater independence. Spain has separatist groups in Galicia, the Basque region and prosperous and influential Catalonia.

About 1.8 million Basque voters were likely to oust Socialist leader Patxi Lopez, who ruled thanks to an agreement with the PP from the 75-seat legislature. The Basque region has been wracked by decades of separatist violence.

Mr. Lopez was jostled by demonstrators carrying placards backing violent Basque separatist group ETA as he voted early on Sunday.

ETA, which stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom, is classified as a terrorist group by the European Union, the United States and Spain. It was decimated by arrests over recent years and announced a definitive cease-fire last year but Spain insists it must lay down its arms and dissolve.

Mr. Lopez said these were the first elections in the Basque region where people could vote “in freedom from fear”.

Alberto Nunez Feijoo, who is the president of Galicia’s regional government and the head of PP there, was also jostled by a group of protesters as he went in to cast his ballot.


Spain's labour unions call general strike to protest austerity

Agence France-Presse, October 19, 2012 19:05 IST

Madrid: Spain's two main labour unions on Friday called a general strike for November 14, the second such blanket action this year against the government's biting austerity measures.

The UGT and CCOO unions announced in separate statements that they had approved the multi-sector strike as part of a day of action called by the European Trade Union Confederation.

"Unemployment, cuts, the impoverishment of the majority and the deterioration of public services justify a general strike," the CCOO said.

Spain is in its second recession since the worst of the economic and financial crisis started in 2008 and the unemployment rate is close to 25 per cent.

The government has announced tens of billions of euros in pay cuts, tax rises and other reforms that it says are needed to lower Spain's deficit and strengthen its economy in the long term.

The measures have sparked numerous mass street protests this year and the year's first general strike on March 29.

CCOO leader Ignacio Fernandez Toxo said in the statement the strike showed "firm opposition to the austerity policies that are generating unemployment and a recession that we are suffering in this country and in southern Europe, and which is advancing unstoppably."

The UGT said in a motion approved on Friday: "All this is putting families in our country in an unsustainable situation."

The UGT and CCOO, which represent the majority of unionised workers in Spain, were due to meet later on Friday with smaller unions and other groups to formally launch the strike call.

The European confederation has called for a Europe-wide day of action including strikes, demonstrations and other actions.

Unions in Portugal have called a general strike for the same day and the main private sector union in Greece, GSEE, has also called a strike.

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