Socialists say voters have given the Government ‘the bill’ for austerity programme
They presumed victory in Sunday’s elections but in the end the Popular Party that swept to national power in November failed to win enough votes to govern in Spain’s largest and most populous region.
An outright win in Andalucia could have strengthened prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s hand just five days ahead of an announcement on an unprecedented cuts programme.
But while winning 50 seats in the 109-seat local legislature, the most it has ever won in this bastion of the Left, the Popular Party failed to secure an outright majority.
The result has forced Rajoy to rebuff suggestions that this vote was a thumbs down for his rule.
Pollsters had predicted the Socialists would get another pasting after the defeat in legislative elections as well as local elections in May 2011.
But on the news of the final count the socialists declared that voters had ‘given the bill’ to the Government after it unveiled swinging tax rises at the end of last year, despite promising during campaigning there would be none, and a round of punishing spending cuts.
The Popular Party actually lost 150,000 votes compared to regional elections in 2008, obtaining just 40,000 more than the socialists. Compared to the general elections of November 20 2011 it is even worse – their margin over the socialists was 400,000 votes.
The Socialists, despite widespread corruption in a region it has ruled since the return to democracy in the early 1980s, won 39.5% of the vote, or 1,503,600. They lost just 9 seats, leaving them with 47 seats.
A coalition led by the radical United Left doubled the number of seats to 12 with a 11.4% share, or around 432,300 votes.
Although a Socialist-United Left coalition is not a given, United Left’s leader hinted on Sunday that his party was minded to enter such a coalition.
‘Today we’ve seen that the majority of voters in Andalucia have not voted for the right. They want change that defends the social model and the equality of opportunities,’ Cayo Lara said on television.
‘The people of Andalucia want change, but they want change through the left,’ he said.
The sunny home of flamenco and Spanish bullfighting has been hit hardest by Spain’s economic woes, falling into recession with sky-high jobless levels as the government has axed spending.
The region, home to 8.4 million people, built on its agriculture-based economy from the 1960s by luring tourists to its beaches on the Costa del Sol and exquisite Moorish monuments.
From the 1990s onwards it was swept along by the bank-fuelled property boom, which collapsed in 2008 laying waste to millions of jobs and creating financial havoc in banks, businesses and government.
Andalucia now has the highest unemployment rate of any region in Spain at 31.3%, higher even than the national rate of 23%, which itself is a record among industrialised nations.
The poor election results in Andalucia is particularly embarrassing for Madrid which has been holding off an announcement of a further €40 billion cuts for fear it would provoke a popular backlash.
This will likely be unveiled later in the week amid massive pressure from Eurozone heads of state who have decided Spain is now the weak link in the Single Currency area’s economic and financial crisis.
A further test of the Rajoy government’s popularity will come on Thursday when a general strike is to be held.