Spain’s ruling Socialists are facing their first electoral test since the nation slipped into recession, with the prime minister’s party seeking an historic win in regional polls in the Basque country.
The elections in the Basque region and Galicia follow a decade long property boom which has now collapsed, sending the nation into the economic doldrums.
In the Basque country, the head of the regional government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, in power since 1980 with his moderate nationalist PNV Party is said to be neck and neck with the Socialist Party.
The Socialists are hoping to remain part of the ruling coalition in Galicia and score an historic victory in the Basque country.
If the Socialists win outright, it would be the first time since the nation returned to democracy in 1975 that the Basque country would be governed by a party unquestionably committed to keeping the region as a part of Spain.
The Socialists have pulled out all the stops to gain control of the Basque region despite a continuing campaign of violence by the armed separatist group ETA – the latest, an attack on a regional public television station in Bilbao in December.
Two parties accused of having links to ETA are banned from these elections.
People are also going to the polls in the rugged north western region of Galicia.
The Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been campaigning hard in the region for his party’s candidate. The Socialists are keen to make sure they retain power after their victory in 2005 ended many years of rule by the conservative People’s Party.
But this is the home turf of people’s party leader Mariano Rahoy and he has launched an all out counter offensive to win the region back.