Galicia's emigrants to decide fate of ex-Franco minister

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The Independent Online

The hopes of General Franco's former propaganda minister, Manuel Fraga, to serve for a fifth term as Galicia's regional prime minister are hanging in the balance, with a single but crucial seat in the region's parliament to be decided.

The region's ruling Popular Party (PP), built by Mr Fraga from the ruins of Francoism 25 years ago, and the two opposition socialist parties have each claimed victory in Sunday's Galician elections. The conservative PP won the biggest vote, securing 37 seats, but the Socialist Party and the Galego Nationalist Bloc - who pledge to unite to form a left-wing alternative for the first time in the region - have 38.

Everything now depends on fewer than 80,000 votes from Galician residents abroad, mainly in Latin America, who are allowed to vote in recognition of the enormous emigration from this traditionally impoverished region.

That result will not be known until next week, but a radiant Emilio Perez Tourino, leader of the region's Socialists, announced on Sunday night that Galicians had made a clear choice for change. "Today a new stage opens," he said.

The PP, meanwhile, remained equally confident of victory, with yesterday's front pages filled with pictures of Mr Fraga, 82, looking frail but smiling for the first time in weeks, and raising a glass of champagne.

Speculation over how the emigrant vote will divide up put Mr Tourino ahead by a nose. In the past, Galicia's residents abroad have voted mostly for Mr Fraga, himself the son of emigrants to Cuba. But the gap has narrowed in recent elections, following strong Socialist campaigning abroad.

"The result is a great victory for the PP and a great defeat for Mr Zapatero [and his Socialist Party]," the PP's' general secretary, Angel Acebes, said.

The leader of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, said his side had won in all but 13 of Galicia's 314 villages and towns, and in six of the region's seven largest cities.

The PP is seeking a comeback after being voted out in general elections in March 2004, losing Spain's leg of elections to the European Parliament last year and performing poorly in Basque elections in April.

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