Spanish opposition set for win


Spanish opposition leader Mariano Rajoy is poised to secure the biggest majority in almost three decades as the risk of Spain becoming the next nation overwhelmed by Europe's debt crisis bolsters support for his People's Party.

Spaniards are voting in a parliamentary election today that is expected to throw out the ruling Socialists and bring in a new centre-right government to tackle the country's dire economic situation.

Voting stations close at 8pm local time today, and complete election results are expected a few hours later.

Pre-election opinion polls gave the conservative People's Party (PP), led by Mr Rajoy, an unassailable lead over the ruling Socialists, who have led Spain from boom to bust in seven years in power.

Voters are angry with the Socialists for failing to act swiftly to prevent the slide in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy and then for bringing in austerity measures that have cut wages, benefits and jobs.

People now seem resigned to further slashes in spending on health and education in the midst of a European debt crisis that has toppled the governments of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy and pushed Spain's borrowing costs ever higher.

The country is home to nearly one third of the euro zone's unemployed, with one in five Spanish workers without a job, and its economy is threatening to slip into recession next year for the second time in three years.

"Today the nightmare is over," the right-wing Gaceta newspaper said in an optimistic front-page headline.

The Vanguardia newspaper alluded to Spain's precarious position in the wider euro zone crisis. "Europe is watching us," read its banner headline.

Mr Rajoy, who led his party in two previous failed parliamentary election campaigns, is likely to win an absolute majority giving him a clear mandate to enforce the deep cuts seen as necessary to balance Spain's books.

The 56-year-old will not be sworn in until December. But he will be eager to lay out plans during the handover period to reassure fraught markets that have lost faith in the euro zone project.

Spain's borrowing costs touched euro-era highs in the week running up to the election and came perilously close to the 7 per cent level at which other euro zone nations like Ireland and Greece sought international bail-outs.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided against running for a third term as his approval ratings sank.

The Socialists chose veteran politician Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba as their leader for the campaign, but he struggled to differentiate himself from Mr Zapatero, since he served in his cabinet for years.