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Catalan election result deals blow to embattled Spanish government

Catalonia's center-right nationalists have won a convincing victory over the ruling Socialists in regional elections. The poor showing for the left is a bad sign for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

The results do not bode well for Zapatero's chance of re-election in 2012

Catalonia's principal nationalist party inflicted a heavy defeat on the ruling Socialists in regional elections on Sunday, dealing a blow to embattled Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Artur Mas, right, celebrates results at an earlier election

There is plenty to celebrate for Mas, right, and his party

With 99.9 percent of ballots counted early on Monday, the center-right, moderate nationalist Convergence and Union party (CiU) attracted 38.1 percent of votes cast to win 62 seats in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament.

CiU leader Artur Mas is to take over from his Socialist counterpart, Jose Montilla, as president of the regional government, although his party fell short of the 68 seats needed for an absolute majority.

"We are proud of this victory but we are humble," said Mas. "We are not saviors, but rather servants of the people."

Worst result in party's history

The ruling Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), aligned with Zapatero's Socialists nationally, could only muster 28 seats and 18.6 percent of the votes. It was the worst result in the 32-year history of the PSC, with Montilla announcing that he would step down as head of the party.

In further bad news for Spain's Socialists, Spain's largest center-right group on a national basis, the Popular Party (PP), managed to win a significant 18 seats with 12.4 percent of the regional vote.

The Socialist defeat was perceived as partly reflecting the declining popularity of Zapatero, who has been accused of having erratically handled Spain's deepest economic crisis in decades.

A view over Barcelona

The region produces some 20 percent of Spain's GDP

The results could be mirrored in nationwide municipal elections and other regional parliamentary elections in May. These will be seen as a further test for Zapatero ahead of national elections in 2012.

Fresh problems for Zapatero?

Following the election, the CiU -which seeks autonomy but not independence for Catalonia - could create problems for Zapatero by pressing for more control of its own tax revenue.

Although Catalonia is Spain's richest region, generating nearly 20 percent of gross domestic product with only 14 percent of the population, it has also suffered from the effects of Spain's recession and mounting unemployment.

Spain's problems include an 11.1 percent budget deficit and the European Union's highest unemployment rate of 20 percent, standing at 17.4 percent for Catalonia.

Author: Richard Connor (Reuters, dpa, AP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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