Spain Poised For Change As Elections Near

Change is in the wind across southern Europe. The governments of Greece and Italy are collapsing under a mountain of debt and Spain, too, is on shaky financial ground. Spaniards go to the polls on Nov. 20 and are expected to turn the ruling Socialist Party out of power. Yet, as Lauren Frayer reports, people there are also uneasy about the alternatives.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Spain is another debt-ridden country that's causing big worries for its European partners. And Spain too will have a new government after parliamentary elections next weekend. Spaniards blame the ruling Socialist Party for soaring unemployment and a wave of foreclosures. And they'll likely boot them from office. But as Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid, people there are also uneasy about the alternatives.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Spanish spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Spanish spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Spanish spoken)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Election ads blare on Spanish TV and radio. But across Spain, another sound has resonated for several months - the voices of angry citizens.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

FRAYER: Teachers and other public workers have been on strike, and Spain's squares intermittently swell with indignados, protesters who inspired Occupy Wall Street an ocean away. Spain has the Eurozone's highest unemployment. Even people like Diego Hernandez, who has a law degree, are waiting tables. Even that's a temp contract.

DIEGO HERNANDEZ: I had a permanent contract before. But they closed, so they put me out. This is normal.

FRAYER: This is Spain's 99 percent. And when they go to the polls on November 20th, they're expected to vote out the ruling Socialist Party. The Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is stepping down, and his deputy is heading the party's ticket. But if opinion polls are right, the leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, will inherit Spain's woes: 46 percent youth unemployment, overleveraged banks and hundreds of thousands of empty homes left over from the construction boom.

MARIANO RAJOY: (Spanish spoken)

FRAYER: It's true that not everything can be resolved with a political change, Rajoy told a recent party conference. But it's also true that nothing can be solved without political change. That's reality many Europeans are facing. Commentators across Spain's political spectrum say Zapatero's Socialists could have done more to dampen the crisis. Jose Manuel Calvo is the deputy managing editor of El Pais, Spain's center-left daily. I asked him what the Socialists did wrong.

JOSE MANUEL CALVO: Everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FRAYER: Calvo says Prime Minister Zapatero was in denial about the economy's impending collapse as far back as three years ago, when he was fielding calls from leaders around the world, warning him.

CALVO: Calls from Brussels, from Washington, even from Peking, telling him, you need to do something, you are too big to fail. You need to announce to the public cuts. And you know what? The outcome probably would have been much better than now, much better.

FRAYER: The journalist Calvo says Zapatero was deaf to those pleas. Now, his deputy, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, will have to run on the outgoing prime minister's record. But in a debate Monday night, Rubalcaba argued against the prime minister's deficit reduction plan. Spain has pledged to cut its deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2013, as required by the EU. Rubalcaba says meeting that goal now would put even more of a damper on the economy.

ALFREDO PEREZ ZAPATERO: (Spanish spoken)

FRAYER: We should tell Europe that a delay of two years is justified, he said, until 2015 - two years. Spaniards are bracing themselves for years of austerity. Some are nervous the conservatives might slash social services. Rajoy, the conservative party leader, hasn't done much to ease those fears. He's pledged tax breaks for small businesses but hasn't spelled out what services he'll cut to pay for those tax breaks. Chusa Gallego is a nurse who joined street protests this past summer after taking a pay cut at her hospital. She says voters want change, but she doubts either party can make the situation better.

CHUSA GALLEGO: What happened? The Spanish economy will be growing? People realize it's not true, that politics is just only talk and talk and talk and talk. And most of the people have lost their hope.

FRAYER: Gallego says she may not even bother to vote. Low turnout would probably hurt the Socialists more, but the conservatives' lead in the polls is so large, there's no question they'll win by a landslide. There are questions, though, about what they have in store for Spain's economy. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: