July 16, 2024

Protests Continue as Spain Goes to the Polls

MADRID — Tens of thousands of demonstrators across Spain continued sit-ins and other protests on Sunday against the established political parties, overshadowing regional and municipal elections that were expected to result in a defeat for the governing Socialist Party.

Demonstrators gathered in the squares of Spanish cities throughout the weekend, even after a ban against such protests went into effect at midnight Friday. Fueling their anger is the perception that politicians have failed to ease economic hardships that many residents are facing. The unemployment rate in Spain is 21 percent, more than twice the European average.

Beyond economic complaints, the protesters are seeking an end to political corruption and an overhaul of Spain’s electoral structure, notably by doing away with the system in which candidates are selected internally by the parties before an election rather than being chosen directly by voters. Demonstrators are also calling for a cut in military spending, the closing of nuclear power plants and the abolishment of some laws, like recent legislation aimed at punishing digital piracy.

The protests, which started May 15, have spread gradually across the country. Spaniards overseas have also held some protests outside their embassies to show their support for an alternative campaign that has almost eclipsed that of the established parties.

More than 34 million voters were called to take part in elections Sunday in 13 of Spain’s 17 regions and about 8,100 municipalities. Some protest groups called for residents to vote for smaller and alternative parties, or to cast a blank ballot.

The protest groups, who insist that they have no party affiliation, were also expected to decide whether to continue their sit-ins after the election. On Saturday, protesters in Barcelona said they would plan a major march on June 15, which would end in front of the Catalan Parliament.

The election was expected to result in a countrywide sweep by the Popular Party, the main center-right opposition, at the expense of the governing Socialists, whose popularity has plummeted because of the economic crisis. The most recent opinion polls suggested that the Socialist Party might lose in regions and municipalities where it had been in power since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s, notably Castilla-La Mancha.

Results are expected to be released late Sunday. Whatever the outcome, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced in April that he would not seek a third term.

Like other leading politicians, Mr. Zapatero was caught flat-footed by the spread of the street protests.

After casting his ballot Sunday morning, he called on eligible voters not to turn their back on the elections. “A large turnout would be the best result for this electoral day,” he said.

The largest protests have been held in Puerta del Sol, a main square in central Madrid. “The voice of the people can never be illegal,” read some of the banners, while others said: “We are not against the system but the system is against us.”

Still, the government did not order the police to use force to break up any protests and sit-ins in Madrid and elsewhere over the weekend, especially given that protests last week had not generated any violence. Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, speaking during a visit to the Murcia region, said that “the police are there to solve problems and not create new ones.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/23/world/europe/23spain.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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