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Spain's PM gets boost in regional votes

Updated: 2012-10-22 15:22
( Xinhua)

MADRID - Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government was given a boost as his center-right Popular Party (PP) took a strong victory on Sunday in the regional election in his hometown Galicia.

The vote in Galicia had been seen as a vote of confidence in Rajoy's handling of the euro zone crisis.

Alberto Feijoo of the PP leader was re-elected as president of the region with an increased majority of 41 seats, three more than his party won in 2009.

The victory in the traditional Popular Party stronghold may serve as a proof that Spanish citizens support Rajoy's austerity policies.

Recent opinion polls show that Rajoy is losing support amid constant protests against his austerity measures deemed ineffective against a deepening recession.

But the measures, which include spending cuts in public services and successive tax hikes, have proved more effective in Galicia, which the PP has governed since 2009.

Galicia has one of the lowest budget deficits among the country's debt-ridden 17 semi-autonomous regions. During the electoral campaign, Feijoo promised that Galicia would be the first region in the country to walk out of the economic crisis.

The Galician vote was characterized by another electoral failure by the Socialists, who lost seven seats, while the more radical left wing party EU-Anova came from nowhere to win nine seats and become the third force in the region ahead of Galician nationalist BNG.

Meanwhile, the PP as well as the Socialist (PSOE) saw their support dwindling in the Basque region, while the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the left wing nationalist coalition were the clear winners of the night.

The PSOE lost nine seats in the 75 seat Basque parliament (an 11.6 percent fall in votes), dropping from 25 to just 16 seats, while the PP presence dropped from 13 to 10 seats.

The big winner on the night was Bildu. The party that was standing in its first regional elections took 21 seats, including three it won from the more conservative PNV, who are nevertheless the biggest force in the region with 27 seats.

Although they have different agendas in some social issues, everything points to PNV and Bildu forming a coalition government with a powerful nationalist majority and agenda.

PNV leader Inigo Urkullu will replace Socialist Patxi Lopez as "Lehendakai" (or Basque President) and highlighted that a year from the permanent ceasefire announced by Basque separatist group ETA, these elections had taken place "in total freedom".

With nationalist feeling also rising in Catalonia, where there are elections in November, the central government in Madrid could face a serious problem.

Votes in both Galicia and the Basque region were characterized by a fall in turnout, by around two percent in the Basque region, though the province of Gipuzkoa, where Bildu are strongest, saw an increased number of voters.

The voter turnout fall was much steeper in Galicia, where the number of people at the polls dropped by around seven percent. Thus, despite their increased majority, the PP actually polled around 150,000 fewer votes.

The trend is worrisome that increasing numbers of Spaniards are clearly losing faith in traditional politics and that could pose problems for Rajoy in the short to medium term.