Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero yesterday announced early general elections in November, four months earlier than anticipated, in an effort to give his Socialist Party a better chance at maintaining power.
Zapatero set the election date for 20 November.
Analysts said the move could help the Socialist Party candidate, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, former Interior Minister for Zapatero. Rubalcaba has trailed against Popular Party candidate Mariano Rajoy but a new poll has shown him closing the gap.
Zapatero announced earlier this year that he would not seek a third term. Rajoy has been demanding early elections for months, saying that Spaniards are fed up with the handling of the economy by Zapatero and his administration. Spain's unemployment rate is 20.9 per cent, the highest in the eurozone.
Rajoy's party trounced the Socialists in nationwide regional and municipal elections held in March.
Adding to Spain's economic woes, the Moody's rating agency said yesterday that it may downgrade Spain's credit rating given the country's weak economic growth prospects and ongoing funding pressures.
The move was a further sign that last week's bailout of Greece has not ended fears of debt crisis contagion elsewhere in Europe. Zapatero has presided over a series of unpopular austerity measures aimed at preventing Spain from needing a bailout.