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Elections in Spain measure regional discontent

Voters are casting their ballots in Spain’s Basque and Galicia regions. With nationalist parties on the rise and discontent over the country's recession, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party faces a tight race.

(L-R) Lehendakari (Presidential) candidates for Basque regional elections, Gorka Maneiro (UPD), Laura Mintegi (EH-Bildu), Patxi Lopez (PSE), Inigo Urkullu (PNV), Antonio Basagoiti (PP) and Jose Navas (EB), pose before a televised debate at the EITB studios in San Sebastian October 17, 2012. Basques go to the polls for regional elections on Sunday. REUTERS/Vincent West (SPAIN - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Spanish candidates

Almost 4.5 million people were eligible to vote in regional parliamentary elections in Spain's tumultuous Basque region and in northwestern Galicia.

In Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's native region of Galicia, polls indicate his conservative Popular Party (PP) faces a tight race to defend its narrow absolute majority, ahead of Spain's other main party, the Socialists.

Sunday's polls will offer "a complete analysis of the two parties who have alternated in power in Spain for the past 30 years," wrote editorialist Laureano Lopez in an editorial in regional newspaper La Voz de Galicia.

Rajoy has abstained from revealing whether his government will seek a national bailout during the campaign even though most Spaniards believe it to be inevitable.

With 2.7 million voters, Galicia is a traditional Popular Party stronghold. Rajoy's party could see a drop in support if voters use the ballot to protest against the sharp spending cuts and tax increases he has passed to cut Spain's public deficit since he came to power in December.

Unemployment in Galicia has surged to 21 percent, close to the national average of nearly 25 percent.

Basque Country independence

The wealthy northern Basque region, which borders France, will also take to the polls today. The region has been wracked by decades of separatist violence.

This is the first vote for Basque residents since armed separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna announced an end to its bombings and shootings. The announcement is marked by a surge in support for a coalition that continues to push for democratic independence. Voters are likely to oust Socialist leader Patxi Lopez.

Rajoy has insisted Spain must stay united as it fights to stabilize public finances and push through reforms that he says will strengthen its economy in the long term.

Campaigning in Galicia on Friday, Rajoy said that voting for the Popular Party "is to bet on the values that unite all Spaniards - values that are the same for us in Galicia, in the Basque Country, Catalonia and all of Spain."

In Sunday's vote, he added, "there is a choice between stability, moderation and common sense, or confusion, uncertainty and constant stress."

hc/jlw (AP, AFP)