Andalusians hold Spain’s austerity future in ballot box

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s hardline attitude to his country’s crisis has triggered outcry from the public and done little to remedy economic woes. Moreover, Sunday’s elections in Andalusia could give Rajoy free rein to ratchet up austerity measures.

­Spain’s most populous region has traditionally been ruled by socialists since the country’s return to democracy in 1978. However, with unemployment in the region at 30 per cent and a political panorama fraught with scandal and corruption, the balance looks tipped in favor of Rajoy’s Popular Party.

A victory would confirm the party’s political hegemony in Spain and pave the way for new anti-deficit measures geared towards pulling the country out of crisis. It would also give Prime Minister Rajoy power to institute risky economic initiatives.

Rajoy has called for all of Spain’s regions to halve their total budget gap this year in an effort to meet EU commitments for this year.

In spite of the expected victory, Rajoy’s austerity measures have come under increasing criticism recently. The conservative government’s new work reforms proposed on 11 March incited public ire, triggering widespread protests and a call for a general strike on March 29.

The government says the reforms aim to revitalize the flagging economy and boost job creation, but many argue that they will reduce workers’ rights and allow companies to lay off more employees.

­Spain’s disillusioned youth

­Spanish youth have been hit particularly hard by the country’s spiraling crisis, with almost 50 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds unable to find employment.

“It’s quite hard actually – the future you can expect when the unemployment rates are this high and the schools are becoming private businesses,” a Spanish student told RT correspondent Sara Firth.

In February, thousands of young Spaniards marched the streets of Valencia to protest education cuts and reforms, leading to fierce clashes between demonstrators and police forces. Numerous arrests were made, with many activists accusing the Spanish police of heavy-handed tactics and brutality.

“What I would like to see is people massively going out onto the streets and protesting, make things change. People have that power and I would like them to realize,” commented another student.

He also highlighted that the new Spanish government had spent over a million euro on tear gas and smoke grenades upon its ascent to power.

“One million euro of a budget of a country that has already a really bad economy on weapons to use against our own citizens when they come here to complain about what we are doing to them,” he said.

Opposition to Prime Minister Rajoy’s hardline policies looks set to grow in momentum as 400,000 jobs are predicted to disappear in the coming months.