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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system