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Title: Spain seen deepening cuts after Andalucia vote
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Spain's ruling centre-right People's Party is expected to win elections in the economically troubled region of Andalucia on Sunday, ...


Spain's ruling centre-right People's Party is expected to win elections in the economically troubled region of Andalucia on Sunday, a victory it will use as a mandate to extend austerity measures to health and education throughout the country. Polls show that even though the economy is heading into its second recession in three years, most Spaniards support the savings drive by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, elected last year on pledges to steer Spain out of the euro zone debt crisis. The opposition Socialists have ruled Andalucia, a populous region famous for Granada's Alhambra palace, Costa del Sol seaside resorts and a huge olive industry, since Spain's return to democracy in 1978. But they are expected to lose their last stronghold as voters punish them for a 30 percent unemployment rate, the country's highest, corruption scandals and a national economic downturn which began when the Socialists were in power. "I believe the PP will win and the only thing I want is for them to bring jobs. I don't know if I'll vote or not. But I understand there will be more spending cuts," said 32-year-old Lucia Maestre. Like many young Spaniards she has a university degree but can only find low-paying work, such as a weekend shift in a bar in the rural town of Cartaya in south west Spain on the Atlantic coast. The PP won the general election in November after wresting almost all of the country's 17 autonomous regions and most of its city halls from the opposition in May. The Andalucia vote comes four days before a nationwide general strike over labour reforms, and five days before Rajoy presents some 35 billion euros in spending cuts in his 2012 budget. Rajoy has reformed labour market laws to try to stimulate hiring and has drastically cut spending as he tries to win back investors. But many voters also support his austerity drive after doubts over Spain's fiscal health pushing borrowing costs dangerously high last year and threatened to tip the country toward a bailout like Greece, Ireland or Portugal. "We're going to see a thundering PP victory. Voters know that the PP will make spending cuts. They are confident the cuts will be sensible," said Manuel Montero, history professor at Granada University. A PP congressman in the national legislature said that as soon as the Andalucia election hurdle is passed, Rajoy will pass a fresh round of reforms that will allow regions to raise university tuition and start charging for some medical services. While those cuts could spark protests, they will probably not destabilize the government, since polls show at least half of Spaniards support some spending cuts to services, including health and education. Most of the leaders of the autonomous regions, where 70 percent of spending is on education and health care, have also agreed to take harsh steps this year to find at least 10 billion euros ($13.19 billion) in savings. TIME FOR CHANGE A recent poll by Metroscopia shows the PP will take 59 seats, up from 47 presently, in the 109-seat legislature in Andalucia, which is home to almost a fifth of Spaniards. That would give the centre-right party an absolute majority that would block the Socialists from ruling in an alliance with a smaller leftist party, United Left. However, state-owned CIS pollsters forecast the PP would take only 54 or 55 seats, which could allow the Socialists and United Left to form a coalition. "The PP have never won in Andalucia. Just winning with a relative majority is huge for them," said Josep Lobera, research director at Metroscopia. A PP victory "will be seen as backing for austerity measures," he said. The Socialists are also expected to suffer from accusations that a dozen of their leaders fraudulently steered benefits for crisis-hit companies to family and friends. A PP victory might also come partly due to Socialist voters staying home or voting for smaller parties, as in November's general elections. Some voters in the Andalucian town of Cartaya, surrounded by strawberry and raspberry fields, said they would chose anyone except the Socialists as the local economy has been battered by the 2007-2008 collapse of a nationwide building boom. Bella Garcia, 35, a Socialist town council member in Cartaya, which has 20,000 residents, is expecting her party to lose out in the elections. "People want a change even if they aren't PP supporters," she said. Loli Vazquez, owner of a 10-room hotel, is furious about reports that relatives of Socialist leaders received government subsidies for their companies while she has had to lay off two of her four-person staff. Fewer sales representatives and business travellers from the construction industry are coming through town now, she said. "The Socialists' biggest failure has been that they don't understand the economy. You can't earn three and then spend three or four, which is what they've done,"

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