Rajoy's party keep power in Galicia, Basque separatists finish second

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy waves during an electoral meeting of People's Party (PP) in Vigo, northern Spain October 19, 2012. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy faces a high-stakes election in his home region of Galicia on Sunday in which voters could punish him for his handling of the euro zone debt crisis. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

Bilbao: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's right-leaning party on Sunday retained power in his home province of Galicia despite recession and biting austerity measures, official results showed.

The result means Rajoy has avoided a political humiliation in a traditional Popular Party stronghold that would have undermined his standing just as he tries to convince world markets that he can fix Spain's finances and economy.

But a second regional election in the Basque Country added to the Spanish leader's challenges as an exit poll showed a new separatist coalition had finished in second place, just after the conservative Basque Nationalist Party which is seeking greater autonomy for the region.

The two regional votes came at a critical time for Rajoy, who is agonising over whether and when to seek a eurozone sovereign rescue to finance the nation's runaway public debt.

Rajoy's Popular Party captured 41 seats in the 75-seat Galician parliament, up from 38 seats in the outgoing assembly, official results showed with almost all of the votes counted.

The Popular Party had been defending a tight but absolute majority in Galicia, Rajoy's home region, which has a population of 2.8 million, and opinion polls a week before the elections indicated it stood a good chance of success.

Voters apparently decided to stick with Rajoy's party despite an unemployment rate that has climbed sharply to 21 percent, nearing the national rate of 25 percent.

The economic pain and cuts in education and health are fuelling discontent across the 17 powerful regions.

Those sentiments were especially raw in the Basque Country, which is holding its first regional vote since armed separatists ETA renounced the use of bombs and guns.

The Basque Nationalist Party came in first place having captured 27 seats in the 75-seat Basque parliament, followed by the separatist Euskal Herria Bildu coalition which got 21 seats.

The Bildu alliance appears to have filled the space left by the ETA-linked Batasuna party, which was outlawed in 2003.


-- Bildu popularity raises questions of Basque independence --


The big question now is whether the Basque Nationalist Party will seek an alliance with Bildu or another party.

Political analysts believe a Basque regional government that includes Bildu will bring questions of Basque independence to the forefront of the political debate.

"If it is with Bildu, the question of (Basque) identity, of ties with Spain, will play a central role in its coalition," said Anton Losada, political science professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela.

The strong showing for Bildu comes as Rajoy faces a surge in support for separatism in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia.

Catalonia will vote in regional elections on November 25 and Catalan president Artur Mas has promised to hold a referendum on "self-determination" there if his Convergence and Union party is re-elected.

The election in the Basque Country came one year after armed separatist group ETA announced it was giving up violence a year ago.

ETA is blamed for 829 deaths during its four-decade armed campaign for an independent Basque homeland in parts of southern France and in the northern Spanish region, home to 2.2 million people.

Although the Basque unemployment rate is well below the national average, it remains high at 14.5 percent, and central government demands for spending cuts have fed resentment against Madrid.

On October 20, 2011, ETA announced a "definitive end" to its armed activities, but has not formally disarmed or disbanded as the Spanish government demands.





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