Spanish polls 'turn the tortilla'

FROM ELIZABETH NASH

in Madrid

Spain's conservative opposition People's Party (PP) won a decisive victory in elections for regions and town halls on Sunday, causing a severe setback for the Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez and transforming the political map.

The tortilla has been turned over, as they say here, and the PP has established itself as the principal force in the main centres of power in Spanish politics: the big cities and the regional governments. It is the first time the right has won democratic elections so comprehensively, and the results point strongly towards a victory for the PP, which has never been in government, in general elections due in 1997.

With 35 per cent of the vote, the PP won more than 40 of the 50 provincial capitals, 32 of them with an absolute majority. In autonomous regions, 10 of the 13 that voted put the PP first, and five gave it an outright majority. Socialists remain in control of only two of the 13, compared with the eight they had held previously.

However, the Socialists' vote, at 31.5 per cent, held up better than expected. Opinion polls consistently underplayed its importance in small towns, where a conservative campaign for change and renewal exerted little appeal.

The Socialists held on to two rural strongholds, the regions of Extremadura, bordering Portugal, where they will need the support of the pro-Communist United Left party to rule, and in Castile- La Mancha in the central plains, where they held their absolute majority.

The Socialists also held the municipal jewel in their crown, the city of Barcelona, in an evenly matched contest with Catalan nationalists, and kept their absolute majority in the north-western port of La Coruna.

The PP leader, Jose Maria Aznar, hailed the result as "a sweeping triumph". The PP likened its takeover of the town halls to that achieved by the Socialists in 1979 - which was the launchpad for the Socialist election landslide of 1982.

Addressing thousands of euphoric supporters outside his party's Madrid headquarters on Sunday night, Mr Aznar said the results showed people's longing for a change. ''This is only the first step: the next one will be the government of Spain.''

For the governing Socialists, the result was, in the words of a front- page editorial in El Pais newspaper, a simple defeat rather than the total collapse they had feared. The PP has made strong inroads among the urban middle class and the young - those sectors most disenchanted with the sluggish economy and the sleaze surrounding Mr Gonzalez and his ministers.

But the PSOE held its bedrock of support among the poor and the elderly, who owe the palpable improvement in their lives to 13 years of Socialist government. They feel the PP has little to offer them and may even take away the gains they have won.

Socialists probably also held on to the votes of a substantial sector of the middle classes who fear that behind the smooth moderation of the PP campaign lie many old hardliners with only a tenuous loyalty to democracy who are quietly biding time.

The Prime Minister appeared late on Sunday at his party's headquarters to congratulate the PP on its victory. He noted that the Socialists had picked up votes since last year's European elections. "We will continue fighting," a smiling Mr Gonzalez said, "with the will to win the next elections which will be in 1997."

The PP has not, so far, repeated its demand of recent months that Mr Gonzalez should call an early general election. Each of the main parties meets in coming days to discuss what to do next. In many cities and regions, both the Socialists and the PP will have to negotiate pacts, either with the pro-Communist United Left which, with 11 per cent of the vote, increased its support, or regional conservative parties.

The turnout, at 69.79 per cent, was higher than in any of the five previous local and regional elections since democracy was restored after the death of Franco 20 years ago. This reflected the national significance of a vote widely presented as a judgement on Mr Gonzalez's government, now half-way through its fourth term.

The Socialists have narrowed the gulf of nearly 10 percentage points that yawned between them and the PP in last year's European elections, and may have given Mr Gonzalez a breathing space as party leader. But Sunday's results none the less suggest that the era of Socialist supremacy in Spain is over.

Another Socialist recovery like this, one commentator said early yesterday, and they will go down to electoral defeat.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life