Spanish right set for narrow win in poll

FROM ELIZABETH NASH

in Madrid

Spain's conservative Popular Party won a substantial but not crushing victory in yesterday's regional and municipal elections, according to predictions last night based on 77 per cent of the votes counted. It is the first time in Spanish history that the right has won a nationwide majority in democratic elections.

Some commentators spoke of the re-emergence of the traditional division of "two Spains", given the narrowness of the Conservatives' victory.

The PP was expected to win 34.57 per cent and the Socialists 31.10 per cent. The pro-Communist United Left party looked set to win 11.39 per cent. The PP triumphed in the big cities with a handful of exceptions. The Socialists took Barcelona and San Sebastian and held an absolute majority in the north-western port of La Coruna.

The turnout, at 54.3 per cent, was higher than in the last such elections in 1991.

A relieved Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, appeared unexpectedly in Socialist Party headquarters to express his gratitude to supporters.

"We have shown that we can win with elegance and lose with equanimity," he said, predicting that his party would win the next general election.

In the 13 autonomous regions that voted, the PP came first in 11 and won an absolute majority in five. A PP victory is expected in more than 40 provincial capitals, double their score in 1991, with an absolute majority in 39.

Thousands of euphoric PP supporters flocked to the party's headquarters to celebrate after the close of polls and police closed off the street to traffic to accommodate the throng.

The Popular Party's Deputy General Secretary, Mariano Rajoy, expressed his "logical satisfaction" at "a clear triumph". The party's leader, Jose Maria Aznar, said: "We've opened the doors of hope for Spain and overcome the last hurdle on the way to government."

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