Spain Poised For Change As Elections Near
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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