Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's party has won a regional election. In the Basque region, a separatist-minded faction finished second, helping to oust the Socialist Party from power, according to an exit poll.
Exit polls indicated that Prime Minister Rajoy's People's Party would increase its majority in the Galician parliament from 38 to 42 seats. The regional polls tested Rajoy, whose popularity has waned because of spending cuts and tax increases he has put in place to slash Spain's public deficit since coming to power last December.
Almost 4.5 million people were eligible to vote in the regional parliamentary elections in Spain's tumultuous Basque region and in northwestern Galicia.
In Rajoy's native Galicia, the People's Party faced a tight race to defend its narrow absolute majority against the Socialists. With 2.7 million voters, Galicia is a traditional People's Party stronghold.
Rajoy's party could have seen a drop in support if voters protested the measures he has passed to trim Spain's deficit since he came to power. Unemployment in Galicia has increased to 21 percent, close to the national average of nearly 25 percent.
The northern Basque region has been wracked by decades of separatist violence. This was the first vote for Basque residents since the armed group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) announced an end to its bombings and shootings.
The announcement marked a surge in support for a coalition that continues to push for democratic independence. Voters gladly ousted Socialist leader Patxi Lopez in favor of the Basque Nationalist Party, which appeared set to take between 24 and 27 seats and the pro-independence faction Bildu, which should take 23 to 26 seats.
mkg/pfd (dpa, AFP, Reuters)