Socialists to shun polls in Spanish regional vote

Reuters , Tuesday 17 May 2011

Abstention among Spanish voters, unhappy with public spending cuts and high unemployment, is likely to hand major gains to the opposition centre-right Popular Party in local elections this month

The May 22 vote is a taste of what may be to come in 2012 general elections for Spain's minority government, staggering to the end of a second four-year term marked by the worst recession in half a century and the threat of a euro zone debt crisis.

"I want to vote, but none of the options appeals to me," said Layla Amoedo, a 38-year-old teacher in Seville, capital of the southern region Andalucia, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 30 percent, compared with a national rate of 21 percent.

The PP is likely to take Spain's fourth biggest city, Seville, after 12 years under the Socialists, polls show, leaving the Socialists without a single one of the country's
four major cities, home to 14 percent of the population.

"I have never voted for the PP and never will, and I am not inclined to vote for the Socialists or for the United Left," Amoedo told Reuters, citing accusations that the Socialists and the smaller leftist party gave improper subsidies to companies.

Others are fed up with politicians in general as corruption scandals have hit both the Socialists and the PP.

Manuel Chaves, president of the Socialist party and third deputy prime minister, has been accused of giving preferential contracts to companies owned by family members.

Meanwhile Valencia's PP Governor Francisco Camps is accused of accepting thousands of euros of designer suits in return for public works contracts.

However, the Socialists are more likely than the PP to be affected by voters staying away, analysts say, and Camps is set to be reelected even though 49 percent of voters disapprove of the job he has done, a recent Metroscopia poll found.

"Whichever party wins, it will be more of the same. The big companies finance the politicians and call the shots," said Daniele Ivel, a 30-year old musician from Madrid, where the Popular Party is expected to hang on to the mayor's office.

"They change form, but never content," he said.

On Sunday protestors from the Real Democracy Now movement occupied squares in more than 50 cities, calling on voters to reject the two big parties as a protest against joblessness.
Police removed around a hundred of protesters from the Puerta del Sol plaza in Madrid on Monday morning.

"A way to punish the ruling party is not to vote," said Fernando Vallespin, politics professor at Madrid's Autonomous University. Socialist supporters are convinced the Popular Party will win, and their vote will be wasted, he added.

Spaniards are dealing with the hangover from a property bubble that burst over three years ago, leaving them with some of the highest personal debt levels in Europe and an unemployment rate twice the euro zone average.

Abstention was 36 percent in 2007 regional elections. At that time, 38 percent of Spaniards saw the political situation as bad or very bad. That has now risen to 66 percent of voters.

The Socialists admit they could have done some things better, but are focusing their campaign on getting out the vote and warning the centre-right could roll back social benefits.

"They are saying we're the good guys and they (the PP) are the bad guys. This is the (Socialists') strategy to ensure they hold on to their loyal supporters," said Ismael Crespo, political analyst at the Fundacion Ortega-Maranon.

Polls show the Socialists stand to lose strongholds like the large central region of Castilla-La Mancha, further weakening Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government.

Zapatero has said he will not run for a third term. Spain's No. 2 city Barcelona is set to fall to the centre-right Catalonian nationalists CiU, polls showed on
Sunday, ending 32 years of Socialist power. It is the capital of the region of Catalonia with an economy the size of Portugal.

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