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Spain's Election Turns on Economy


A woman cast her vote in a voting station in Madrid, November 20, 2011.

A woman cast her vote in a voting station in Madrid, November 20, 2011.

Spaniards are voting Sunday in legislative elections that are expected to return the conservative Popular Party to power. Initial results are due in the evening.

Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero swept to power in 2004 amid the high drama of the Madrid terrorist attacks, unseating the ruling conservative Popular Party. But today, the economy dominates voter concerns. Unemployment is high, growth is sluggish and the country's public debt is growing.

Those concerns pushed Zapatero, who is not running for another term, to call for early legislative elections. At a voting station on Sunday, the Socialist candidate for prime minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, described the stakes.

Rubalcaba said Spain is living at an historic crossroads, with the next four years very important for its future and urged Spaniards to vote.

But polls leading up to the election indicate the Popular Party will likely be the winner in the balloting for 350 members of parliament and 208 senators. Spaniards say they believe the conservatives are better equipped to reboot the economy.

A voter in Madrid says it's good for the Popular Party to take back power because the Spanish economy is going from bad for worse - and it's time for a change.

Spain's election is being watched closely in Europe. Observers fear the country could become the next victim of the spreading eurozone crisis that has already toppled the governments of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy.

Popular Party candidate Mariano Rajoy has presented a reform program focused on creating jobs and growing the economy. But the Socialists warn the Popular Party will cut spending on health and education, among other austerity measures.

Analysts say whichever party comes to power must move quickly to persuade markets that Spain will repay its debts. Interest rates for Spanish public debt soared on Friday, underscoring investor concerns.

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