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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Espagne : la contestation des urnes

by l’Huma

Spain: Contesting Elections

Translated Friday 27 May 2011, by Kristina Wischenkamper and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Spain’s ruling Socialist Party has suffered a heavy defeat in Sunday’s local elections, penalized for its austerity measures in response to the economic crisis and record high unemployment, conditions which have triggered an unprecedented social protest movement across the country.

According to near-final results, the Socialist Party polled 27.81% of votes, far behind the conservative Popular Party with 37.58%; the transformation Left Izquierda Unida (IU) increased its share to 6.31% (5.54% in 2007). The Socialists regained seats in Extremadura, Castile and León, but lost Cordoba city. The protest vote leaving them nearly ten points behind has hit the Socialists, in power since 2004, just ten months away from legislative elections due in March 2012 and when the country is experiencing a wave of youth-led protests. "I know that many Spaniards are suffering great hardship (...) and that many young people who are worried about their future have today expressed their concerns," said the prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "It was reasonable to think that the Socialist Party would suffer a setback at the ballot box; we take responsibility and we understand," he added.

The protesters who took possession of the Puerta del Sol square in the heart of Madrid decided on Sunday to continue their occupation for at least another week. In the evening, as has happened each day, a crowd of several thousand people invaded the square, around the village of alternating blue tarpaulin and tents that has become the epi-centre of the protest. The movement, which brings together many young people, but also citizens of all backgrounds, emerged on May 15 via social networks, growing rapidly, spreading throughout the country and organizing. A spontaneous, colourful, peaceful, melting pot of ideas for future reforms, this apolitical citizens’ movement denounces social injustice, the excesses of capitalism, and "corrupt politicians". More importantly, it expresses the anguish of millions of Spaniards in the face of unemployment which has reached 21.19% and affects nearly half of those under 25. The rallies continued Saturday and Sunday in Madrid and in most cities in Spain despite the electoral truce that forbade any political activity. However, the government, finding itself in a delicate position, has so far refrained from calling in the police to evacuate demonstrators.

In this difficult context all of the country’s municipalities elected their town councils and 13 of the 17 autonomous regions elected their parliaments. Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia and Andalusia vote on other dates. Zapatero’s 2 April announcement that he would not run for a third term in 2012 has had no effect on the dwindling popularity of his party. The head of government has however rejected the idea of early elections. The Socialists lost Barcelona, the second largest city in the country, which they had controlled since 1979, and where for the first time in the post-Franco era they have lost out to the conservative nationalist CiU coalition. They were also beaten in Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city. In the regions, the Socialists lost Castilla-La Mancha, one of their historical strongholds. After these elections, the Left can govern alone in only one of the 17 regions of Spain, namely Andalusia. Unsurprisingly the Right held Madrid and Valencia, the third largest city.

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