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Spain's center-right party defeats ruling Socialists in election

November 20, 2011 |  2:46 pm


REPORTING FROM LONDON — Spain's ruling Socialists were ousted from power in elections Sunday as Europe's debt crisis continued to cause political upheaval across the continent.

With 98% of the votes counted, the Popular Party had won 186 seats, a majority in the 350-member lower chamber of parliament, assuring that the center-right group will return to power for the first time since 2004.

The conservatives won roughly 45% of the votes and the Socialists took 29%, according to official election results, the news service reported.

The conservative party appeared to have benefited from widespread anger over the perilous state of the economy in Spain, where unemployment exceeds 21% and borrowing costs for the government have hit painfully high levels because of the debt crisis.

The presumptive new prime minister, Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, should have the parliamentary majority needed to pass further austerity measures to rein in public spending and to liberalize Spain's labor laws.

Rajoy, 56, will have to act fast to placate markets that have been demonstrating their lack of faith in the Spanish economy by making it increasingly expensive for Madrid to raise money to pay its bills. Last week, the interest rate on Spanish government bonds hovered dangerously close to the level at which Greece, Ireland and Portugal were forced to turn to their European neighbors and the International Monetary Fund for emergency loans.

But Spain, with the fourth-largest economy in the 17-nation Eurozone, is considered too big to bail out, raising worries over what Europe's leaders can do to keep the debt crisis from spinning completely out of control.

The Socialist government put a liberal stamp on social policy, with, for example, the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the deteriorating economic situation caused the party's standing to plummet so badly that outgoing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero stepped aside as the Socialists' candidate for prime minister in Sunday's election.

In Rajoy, Spain would have a leader who even allies acknowledge is low-key and bland and who lost the last two elections. But his supporters say he is good at building consensus.

"I am ready for whatever Spaniards may want," he said after casting his ballot Sunday.


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Photo: Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party, the likely next prime minister of Spain, waves as he celebrates his party's election victory in Madrid on Sunday. Credit: Jasper Juinen / Getty Images.

Spanish conservatives win general elections
Adds new photos. This story is part of AP's general news and financial services.

AP Photo JEM105, JEM118, PW113, PW111, PW112, DO101, JEM114, JEM113, DO110, PW109

Associated Press

MADRID (AP) — Spain's opposition conservatives swept commandingly into power and into the hot seat Sunday as voters enduring a 21.5 percent jobless rate and stagnant economy dumped the Socialists — the third time in as many weeks Europe's debt crisis has claimed a government.

Awaiting words from victorious party leader and future prime minister Mariano Rajoy, thousands of jubilant, cheering supporters waving red-and-yellow Spanish flags and blue-and-white party ones gathered outside Popular Party headquarters in downtown Madrid as pop music boomed over loudspeakers.

With 90 percent of the votes from the election counted, the center-right PP won 186 seats compared to 154 in the last legislature, while the Socialists plummeted from 169 to 110, their worst performance ever.

The PP thus won an absolute majority and resounding mandate from troubled electorate. It needed 176 votes for such a majority.

One supporter, David Cordero, said he was happy with the prospect of change so as to create jobs and protect social services like state-paid health care and education.

“This is what this country needs right now,” he said.

The conservatives won roughly 44 percent of the votes and the Socialists took 29 percent, according to official election results.

The numbers suggest Spanish voters have shifted clearly to the right as they confront their worst economic crisis in decades and choose new leaders to pull them out of it.

As part of that mess, the country is also at the forefront of Europe's sovereign debt crisis, with the Spanish government's borrowing costs rising last week to levels near where other eurozone countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal had to request huge bailouts from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Besides the recent changes in which Greece and Italy replaced their governments with teams made up of technocrats, Ireland and Portugal — which also required huge bailouts to avert default — also saw their governments change hands.

AP-WF-11-20-11 2149GMT