Gonzalez party rocked in local poll

The Socialist Party (PSOE) of Spain's Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, defeated in yesterday's European parliamentary election, suffered an equally dramatic setback in key regional elections in his native Andalucia, long a Socialist stronghold.

Provisional results showed the Socialists had lost their overall majority in the 109- seat Seville-based parliament of Andalucia, one of Spain's 17 'semi-autonomous communities', for the first time. As in the Euro-vote, they lost to both left and right.

The PSOE looked like dropping from 62 seats in Andalucia to about 45, while the conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), headed nationally by Jose Maria Aznar and currently filling 26 seats, would reach around 40.

The big winner was the region and nation's third power, the Communist-led United Left (IU) coalition, running jointly with the Green Party, which grabbed many disillusioned Socialists' votes, jumping from the current 11 seats to 21 or 22. That will force the Socialists to swallow their pride and turn to the IU to form a coalition government in the unemployment-racked southern region that takes in the Costa del Sol.

For the first time in Spain's modern democratic history, the PP outscored the Socialists in two Andalucian provinces, Almeria and Malaga, both on the Costa del Sol. With the count said to have been close in both, it was entirely possible that the first- ever votes by foreigners - EU citizens resident on the Costa del Sol - may have swung the balance in these provinces, even though only a small percentage of foreigners registered to vote.

A bitterly fought campaign - invoking the old Civil War reds-versus-fascists rhetoric - roused Andalucians to a turn-out of 66 per cent, compared with Spain's overall 59 per cent for the EU vote.

Yesterday's regional vote was the first in Spain since the general elections of June last year. Since then, the PSOE has been burdened by a string of corruption scandals and record unemployment of 25 per cent nationwide - and 35 per cent in Andalucia.