Aznar's party scrapes through in local polls

Final exit polls show that Spainish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and his ruling People’s Party have lost ground to the opposition in local and regional elections, but the results will not significantly change the political scenario.

    Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria
    Aznar and his People's Party lost
    ground but survived the election

    It was the first time since 1996 that the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) would score more votes than the centre-right People's Party (PP). But it was not as damaging an election as analysts had earlier suggested.

    Interior ministry results showed the opposition socialists only slightly ahead in the overall vote count, 34.7% to 33.9% , with 99% of the votes counted. It is  slightly better for the socialists and only a little worse for Aznar's party than the tally from the 1999 municipal elections.

    Jose Blanco, a senior socialist official, said his party's goal had been to win more overall votes - in the end the margin was more than 300,000.

    However, Sunday's vote may not significantly change the distribution of political power at the municipal level.

    The Popular Party won the mayoral race in Madrid, and also retained control of Valencia and smaller cities and towns in central Spain.

    It also finished first in the race for the Madrid regional legislature, but failed to retain its majority as the socialists made strong gains and could form a coalition with the left.

    Comeback attempt

    Aznar has been criticised for his
    support of the US-led war on Iraq

    One year before he is due to retire, Aznar has thrown himself into his party's regional and local election campaign in an attempt to claw back some of the support it has lost over Iraq and the Prestige oil tanker disaster.

    The Iraq war dominated the two-week political campaign. Aznar defied public opinion in Spain and across much of Europe by taking a high-profile place in the US-led coalition.

    His approval rating fell to 31% and the socialists eclipsed his conservative party in opinion polls for the first time since he took office in 1996, ending a 12-year Socialist rule.

    Aznar announced two years ago that he would step down from his party's leadership and not seek re-election next year.


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