Spanish PM faces key vote

Spaniards battling a deep recession voted on Sunday in two snap regional elections that could deal a blow to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy’s right-leaning Popular Party has imposed tough austerity measures on the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy and now faces votes in the premier’s home region of Galicia and in the Basque Country.

The elections are full of risks for the Spanish leader as he agonises over whether and when to snatch a eurozone rescue line to help finance the nation’s soaring public debt.
Many investors believe the prime minister is waiting to get the two votes out of the way before requesting a rescue, keeping world financial markets on edge. In Galicia, which has 2.7 million eligible voters including 400,000 abroad, the Popular Party was defending a tight, absolute majority. Opinion polls gave it hopes of keeping power.

But Rajoy risks a humiliating upset if his prescription of deep spending cuts and higher taxes causes voters in Galicia, where the unemployment rate is 21 percent, to punish his party.

Economic pain and cuts in education and health are fuelling discontent across the country’s 17 powerful regions.

In the rain-swept Basque Country, a pro-independence coalition is expected to enjoy a surge in support in the first regional vote since the armed separatist movement ETA renounced the use of bombs and guns.

One voter, 43-year-old engineer Inaki Arteaga, said both the economy and the new climate in the Basque Country weighed on his mind.

“These elections have two keys: the economy and the fact that this time anyone who wants to can vote,” he said.

Rajoy, already struggling to contain pro-independence demands in northeastern Catalonia, which goes to the polls on November 25, has urged Spaniards to stay united.
The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), a conservative nationalist party, was ahead in opinion polls before the Basque vote, in which nearly 1.8 million people are eligible to cast ballots. But a new coalition of left-wing Basque separatists, Euskal Herria Bildu, is likely to come second.

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