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Spain likely to see new protests after election

Source: Reuters - Tue 22th Nov 2011

Spain is likely to see renewed street protests after an election that brought a conservative government bent on austerity to power but also boosted a string of small parties. The center-right People's Party (PP) scored the biggest win for three decades in Sunday's election as voters punished the outgoing Socialist government for the worst economic crisis for decades.

But many traditional left-wing voters could not bring themselves to vote for the PP because of fears that it will slash their vaunted health and education systems and make the economic pain even worse.

They showed their disgust with the Socialists by voting for smaller parties.

These groups, including regional, environmentalist and left-wing blocs, doubled their seats in Spain's lower house with the United Left (IU) coalition of communists and Greens making the biggest gains.

The pressure to return to the streets to protest will also increase because these parties ironically now have a reduced voice in real policy because the PP's sweeping majority gives it no need for support from other groups.

"I think there will be people in the street when they see what the PP are going to do. Its easier for there to be social protests when the right wins," said Jose Antonio Garcia, a 28-year-old left-wing voter.

Spain's "Indignados" (Indignant) movement, which inspired the Occupy Wall Street protests, filled town squares earlier this year to protest at an economic crisis which has put one in five Spaniards out of work.

But the protests diminished before the election with many Spaniards resigned to a PP victory.


Now however, the fragmented small parties could unite on the streets to protest against bitter PP medicine aimed at preventing Spain being sucked deeper into the euro zone debt crisis and having to seek a bailout like Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

The PP is planning to push through unpopular economic reforms to meet challenging public deficit targets, increasing the pain before the economy improves.

"The result is outstanding for the right, but it also reflects huge discontent. Look at the number of abstentions and the votes for small parties...that shows how people feel," said 29-year-old Madrid taxi driver Tomas Ruiz.

"I think they (PP) will do what they like in parliament but people will be out on the street," said.

Many analysts agree that the reforms could lead to protests, but some believe they will be subdued because Spaniards are resigned to the inevitability of cutbacks.

The election result indicated they saw the PP as better stewards of inescapable economic reform than the discredited Socialists.

"It is going to be easier to mobilize public opinion with a right-wing government, but we can also see that the regional governments who pushed through the most controversial reforms have won convincing majorities," said Carlos Barrera, politics professor at the University of Navarre.

Spain's north-eastern region of Catalonia gave the moderate nationalist CIU (Convergence and Union) its first general election win in 32 years on Sunday after it imposed drastic cuts in social spending when it won regional polls in May.

The lack of power of the smaller groups in a parliament dominated by the PP is also expected to raise demands for changes to Spain's electoral system, which favors bigger and regional parties.

Several of the small parties who did well on Sunday have campaigned for changes to the electoral law.

"These elections have shown that a sizable percentage of the electorate have voted for minority parties, which is a clear protest at Spain's voting system and the advantage it gives to the larger parties," said Jose Maria Marin, social movements and contemporary history professor at Spain's open university UNED.

Nearly 10 million people, or 28 percent of Spain's electorate abstained on Sunday, while 333,000 cast blank votes.

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