Spain's ruling Socialist Party sustained heavy losses in municipal elections on Sunday, amid widespread protests against high unemployment. The conservative People's Party (PP) took 37.5% of the vote compared with almost 28% for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's PSOE, with more than 90% of votes counted.
The results of the vote show that the Socialist Party has clearly lost today's elections, Rodriguez Zapatero told a news conference on Sunday. We have suffered a broad setback compared to four years ago.
Rodriguez Zapatero admitted that the economic crisis of the past three years had taken its toll, with unemployment standing at 21.3%. The vote was preceded by a week of protests across Spain, with city squares occupied by demonstrators calling for radical changes to the country's political and banking systems.
These results have a clear relation to the economic crisis we've suffered for three years, said Rodriguez Zapatero. I know that many Spaniards are going through great difficulties and fear for their jobs and future well being.
While the Spanish PM congratulated the PP for their electoral success, he said he had no intention of calling an early general election ahead of the scheduled date in March next year.
The Socialists party lost the regions of Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura, traditional strongholds, while conservatives consolidated their grip on the Valencia and Madrid regions.
There was success for the nationalist CiU in Catalonia, to whom the Socialists lost control of the city council in Barcelona. The radical separatist coalition Bildu became the second largest party in the Basque region.
About 35 million people were eligible to vote in elections for more than 8,000 municipal councils as well as regional governments in 13 of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions.
But across the country, tens of thousands of people have taken part in protests, occupying public squares in Madrid, Barcelona and at least 15 other cities. The demonstrations have largely been led by young people protesting high unemployment, with almost half of Spaniards aged between 18 and 25 out of work. The statistic is more than double the European Union average.
The demonstrators defied an order by the country's electoral commission to disperse over the weekend, with police ordered not to intervene by the government.