Spaniards handed the conservative Popular Party a historic landslide victory and the incumbent Socialist Party its worst defeat in history in this weekend's general elections, highlighting their overwhelming dissatisfaction with the status quo and a demand for new leadership that could help the country climb out of its worst economic crisis in decades.
Spain's political upheaval, largely expected, is the fifth in Europe in the past two years. Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy have all seen governments overturned amid the eurozone's economic crisis. Prime Minister-elect Mariano Rajoy will take office by the end of the year with the goals of stabilizing the economy and improving Spain's standing in turbulent Europe.
The Popular Party will have an absolute majority in parliament, allowing its leader to steer Spain without having to negotiate with other parties. “The Spanish people have spoken loud and clear.They have decided to break with the old and embrace the change we proposed,” Mr. Rajoy said in his victory speech.
The Popular Party captured 186 of the 350 seats in the lower house, with almost 45 percent of the vote, while the incumbent Socialist Party took 110 seats with 29 percent of the vote. The results also favored minority parties.
Calling for national unity, Rajoy spoke with tempered optimism. “There will be no miracles. We haven’t promised them. … It’s not a secret that we will rule in the most delicate of junctures that Spain has faced in 30 years. I will have no other enemy other than unemployment, the deficit, excessive debt, economic stagnation, and everything else that keeping our country in these dire circumstances.”
Rajoy, who finally clinched victory after two failed attempts, has already hinted that Spaniards must brace for more austerity, despite the draconian measures already implemented by the Socialist Party.
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On the verge of bailout?
Amid this, Spain appears to be headed for its second recession in four years. More than 5 million of its 46 million people are jobless. A nearly decade-long economic miracle collapsed four years ago when a construction and real estate bubble burst, more than doubling the unemployment rate to almost 22 percent.
The European debt crisis has also dragged Spain to the verge of a bailout. The country’s cost of borrowing has soared to more than 7 percent, almost five points more than benchmark Germany, and an unsustainable rate for any European country.
“We will stop being a problem and once again be part of the solution,” Rajoy said. “Spain’s voice must again be respected in Brussels, in Frankfurt, and where our interests are at stake. We will be the most loyal, but also the most demanding” of the European Union.
How the parties fared
Voter turnout was just under 72 percent, two points less than in 2008, although it wasn’t as bad as feared. While roughly the same number of people voted for the Popular Party this election as in the past election, the Socialist Party shed more than 35 percent of the vote.
Regional parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country garnered more votes in their territories than national ones, meaning that the nationalist Popular Party will have to deal with more pressure to decentralize. Parties in the center and the more radical left also fared well.
Perhaps the biggest upset and future challenge for the Popular Party, aside from the economy, is the unprecedented voter support for a pro-independence coalition in the Basque Country, which includes the political wing of terrorist group ETA (or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna).