Protesters remain camped out in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza after the governing Socialist party was given a drubbing in Spanish local and regional elections by voters angry about austerity measures, high unemployment and the country’s failing economy.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero conceded defeat after Sunday’s elections, in which the center-right Popular Party (PP) won 37 percent of the vote to the Socialists’ 28 percent. It was the worst result for the Socialist party in the post-Franco era, and it has raised concerns about Spain’s ability to meet deficit reduction targets.
The PP took control of several key Socialist strongholds, including the city of Seville, in what is seen as a public opinion barometer for next year's general election.
Voting took place amid demonstrations by mostly young people angry about Spain’s high unemployment rate and prolonged economic crisis. An estimated 30,000 people occupied the square in the heart of Madrid in the run-up to the vote, and many defied a government ban on political protests on the eve of the election.
Protesters said they would continue their sit-ins for another week, but analysts say the movement can’t possibly sustain this momentum now that the elections are over.
"The big problem is that (the movement) has no path into formal politics. There is no party legitimately speaking on their behalf... no Green party as in other European countries which would back them," David Bach, a professor at IE Business School in Madrid, told Reuters.
Prime Minister Zapatero, in admitting defeat on Sunday night, said that three years of economic trouble had taken their toll on Spain, the BBC reports.
"It destroyed thousands of jobs. It is a crisis that had profound effects on citizens' morale. I know that many Spaniards suffer great hardship and fear for their futures," he said.
"Today, without doubt, they expressed their discontent.”
Spain’s jobless rate hit 21 percent in the first quarter of this year, the highest in the European Union. Youth unemployment stands at 45 percent.
Demonstrators have been demanding more progressive economic policies such as flexibility for borrowers mired in debt after the property market went bust. (Photos of the protests).
Zapatero said he would not run for re-election in the next general election, which must be held by March 2012.