A wave of nationwide protests against soaring unemployment and the economic crisis overshadowed local elections in Spain yesterday in which the ruling Socialist Party faced the prospect of a humiliating defeat.
The predicted rout would be a bad omen for the party ahead of general elections scheduled for March next year, when the conservative Popular Party is expected to romp back into office after eight years in opposition.
More than 34 million people were eligible to vote yesterday, choosing 8,116 mayors, 68,400 town councilors and 824 members of regional parliaments for 13 of the 17 semi-autonomous regions.
Polls forecast devastating losses for the Socialists as voters take revenge for the destruction of millions of jobs and painful spending cuts, including to state salaries.
They predict the ruling party of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will lose control of strongholds such as the cities of Barcelona, Seville and in the central region of Castilla-La Mancha.
It could even be short of an absolute majority in all the 13 regions.
Candidates from the two main parties have exchanged barbs over the economy and political corruption.
However, the campaigning and the predicted outcome have been largely obscured — and muddied by — a nationwide protest movement that began on May 15 by youths angry over joblessness, the economic crisis, politicians in general and corruption.
“The angry and the undecided decide today,” headlined the left-leaning newspaper Publico yesterday. “The effect of the protests becomes the main unknown of the regional and municipal elections.”
“From the streets to the polls,” Barcelona-based Periodico de Catalunya said.
Thousands of people have massed in city centers across the country in the biggest spontaneous protests since the property bubble burst in 2008 and plunged Spain into a recession from which it only emerged this year.
The crisis pushed Spain’s unemployment rate to 21.19 percent in the first quarter of this year, the highest in the industrialized world.
For under-25s, the rate in February was 44.6 percent, and about 800,000 young people are eligible to vote for the first time yesterday.