Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Regional clout wanes as Spain puts jobs over politics

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BARCELONA: Voter anxiety over jobs will help sweep Spain’s right-leaning People’s Party into power in November’s general election with a victory so resounding it will muffle the clout of power-broker parties from the Catalan and Basque regions, according to polls.

Surveys forecast an outright win by the People’s Party, or PP, on November 20 as voters blame the Socialists for unemployment and unmanageable debt and face the enormity of painful spending cuts to ward off the euro zone debt crisis.

In previous legislatures minority Socialist or PP governments have had to strike deals with Basque and Catalan parties — known as nationalist parties — in order to get laws passed.

Playing kingmaker, the Basques and Catalans won concessions for their regions — funding for local projects and financial autonomy — despite their relatively small number of seats in Parliament. The largely opaque negotiations on such deals raised hackles in the rest of the country.

Backed by voter anger at the Socialists, the PP is seen picking up votes around the country, even in Spain’s richest and most populous region Catalonia where it has historically lagged in popularity behind the Socialists and the main Catalan nationalist party Convergencia i Union, or CiU.

”Nationalism has taken a back seat to the economy,” said Juan Diez, analyst at Barcelona-based think-tank IBEI.

Catalonia has its own distinct language and culture and capital city Barcelona is both hip and historic, proud of being a hub for designers and foodies.

But foremost in the minds of the electorate are jobs, not nationhood, especially in Catalonia where the local character is famous for its pragmatism as well as being different.

The PP has never won more than 23 per cent of the vote in Catalonia, but could go over 24 per cent on November 20, gaining two or three more seats that will help it control the national Parliament in Madrid.

The electorate’s faith in the PP, or its disenchantment with the Socialists after almost eight years in power, is such that PP leader Mariano Rajoy is expected to win despite his vague policy outline on the economy.

Polls show most Spaniards see the PP as the better captain during an economic crisis and the best equipped to tackle a 21 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the European Union.

”We all have to shoulder the burden. No-one likes cuts but, if there is no money, what can we do?” said Raquel Vilalta, a 79-year-old former piano teacher from Barcelona. (Reuters)

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