* Conservatives rode wave of voter anger
* Bitter economic medicine expected soon
* Long transition to test nerves
By Fiona Ortiz and Tomás Cobos
MADRID, Nov 20 Spain's centre-right
opposition stormed to a crushing election victory on Sunday as
voters punished the outgoing Socialist government for the worst
economic crisis in generations.
The People's Party, led by former Interior Minister Mariano
Rajoy, won an absolute majority in parliament and is expected to
push through drastic measures to try to prevent Spain being
sucked deeper into a debt storm threatening the whole euro zone.
Voters vented their rage on the Socialists, who led the
country from boom to bust in seven years in charge. With 5
million people out of work, the European Union's highest jobless
rate, Spain is heading into its second recession in four years.
Spaniards, who voted in pouring rain on Sunday, were the
fifth European nation to throw out their leaders because of the
spreading euro zone crisis, following Greece, Portugal, Ireland
The PP won the biggest majority for any party in three
decades, taking 186 seats in the 350-seat lower house, according
to official results with 9 8 percent of
the vote counted .
The Socialists slumped to
1 1 1 seats from 169 in the outgoing
parliament , their worst showing in 30
Rajoy's bitter medicine for the economy will probably make
things worse before they get better. But he has said
Spaniards are prepared for the painful austerity that is needed
to reduce a swollen public deficit threatening to push the euro
zone's fourth economy towards a perilous bail-out.
"I ask you all to keep helping me. Difficult times are
coming," Rajoy, 56, told ecstatic supporters
in his victory speech at PP
"Spain's voice must be respected again in Brussels and
Frankfurt... We will stop being part of the problem and will be
part of the solution."
Most Spaniards are resigned to deep spending cuts and see
Rajoy as a better steward for the economy than the discredited
Socialists, who they blame for failing to act swiftly enough to
head off the crisis and then belatedly imposing biting
austerity measures that slashed wages, benefits and jobs.
"Being a civil servant I'm not optimistic," said Jose
"We can choose the sauce they will cook us in, but we're
still going to be cooked."
Many leftist voters are fearful Rajoy will destroy Spain's
treasured public health and education systems, but they were so
angry at the Socialists that they fled to smaller parties such
as the former communist United Left, which made huge
The PP, formed from other rightist parties in the 1980s
after Spain returned to democracy at the end of the Franco
dictatorship, won their biggest majority ever.
The Socialists lost badly even in their traditional
strongholds such as Andalucia, the olive-growing region in
Spain's sunny south. In some parts of rural southern Spain more
than four out of 10 workers are jobless.
"Something's got to change here in Spain, with 5
million people on the dole, this can't go on," said Juan Antonio
Fernandez, 60, a jobless Madrid construction worker who switched
to the PP from the Socialists. "People like us just want to
Spain's borrowing costs are at their highest since the euro
zone was formed and yields on 10-year bonds soared last week to
close to 7 percent, a level that forced other countries such as
Portugal and Greece to seek international bail-outs.
Rajoy will not be sworn in until around Dec. 20, which could
prove an agonizing transition if volatile markets push Spain's
borrowing costs even higher because of uncertainty.
Closing his campaign on Friday Rajoy pleaded with investors
to give him time to act, and could try to agree immediate
measures with the outgoing government.
ESCALATING DEBT CRISIS
But a resolution may well now be out of the hands of
individual governments, whatever action they take, with the
escalating euro zone crisis now spreading under its own momentum
in the absence of a united European response.
"Mr. Rajoy is coming to power when the euro
zone's very existence is in question. Spain is now a
test case of the measures needed to restore market confidence
and improve creditworthiness," said Nicholas Spiro, head of
Spiro Sovereign Strategy.
Socialist candidate Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba conceded defeat
after a campaign where he had given up hope of winning but
vainly tried to block the PP from taking complete control of
He failed to persuade voters that he was any different from
his long-time boss, deeply unpopular outgoing Prime Minister
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
When the Socialists took power in 2004 Spain was riding a
construction boom fuelled by cheap interest rates,
infrastructure projects and foreign demand for vacation homes on
the country's warm coastlines.
Droves of young men dropped out of high school to take
building jobs and bought flashy BMWs with their inflated wages.
But the government, consumers and companies were engulfed in
debt when the building sector collapsed in 2007, leaving the
landscape dotted with vacant housing developments, empty
airports and underused highways.
In 1.4 million Spanish households no one has a formal job
and bank foreclosures are rising. Close to half of young people
are without work, and many of the rest are in contract jobs with
low pay and no benefits.
Facing a bleak future, tens of thousands of young Spaniards
took to the streets earlier this year in the "Indignados" (or
Indignant) movement, calling for complete political change and
inspiring the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Like many Spaniards, Pablo Cortes, 27, who can only find
occasional restaurant work despite his degree in architecture,
saw no reason for optimism from the result.
"Does anyone really believe the PP is going to solve
this? How, with more austerity for the have-nots and favors for
the rich?" he asked bitterly.