The central government in Spain is being put to the test at the ballot box for the first time since the country started a plunge into economic recession. Voting to select local governments is underway in two regions. In the Basque country, research shows there is unlikely to be an outright winner.
Nevertheless, today’s vote could well spell the end of 29 years in power for the Basque Nationalist Party currently led by Juan Jose Ibbaretxe. Nationalist they may be, but they do not support violence. Two parties with links to ETA have been banned from taking part, prompting the terrorist group to call the election anti-democratic. Research shows a surge of support for the Basque socialists, under Patxi Lopez. But if the surveys are correct, he might have to cosy-up to his bitter conservative rivals to establish a majority. As well as the Basque country, there is a regional government election in Galicia, home to the leader of the People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy. He struggled to retain the leadership after losing a second general election last year, and according to some commentators, he has failed to attack the government effectively over the faltering economy. Galicia has traditionally lent strong support to the conservatives, and opinion polls are divided over whether Emilio Perez Tourino will hold onto the power the socialists seized from them in 2005. Whatever the outcome, both elections will reveal for the first time what voters think of central government, with the economy in recession and unemployment at 14 percent.