Spain's Basque and Galicia regions vote Sunday in elections that might help unblock the nation's nine-month political deadlock. A poor Socialist showing could lead to a right-wing coalition in Madrid.
Spain is awaiting the outcome of elections in Galicia and the semi-autonomous Basque region on Sunday to see if the results could help the country avoid a third possible general election and overcome a political limbo left by two inconclusive elections last December and June.
Acting conservative caretaker premier Mariano Rajoy is six seats short from forming a national government.
Rajoy hopes that a strong showing by his Popular Party in both regions may open the possibility of the Basques, who hold five national seats, backing his government.
Analysts say poor regional showings by Socialists opposed to Rajoy may also prompt the party chief Pedro Sanchez to drop blocking tactics and allow a right-wing coalition to form. Sanchez is facing the prospect of an internal revolt to his leadership.
Surveys indicate that the moderate Basque National Party (PNV) is likely to win a third of the 75 seats in the Basque regional assembly.
Tipped in second place are the left-wing EH Bildu separatists, followed by the anti-austerity party Podemos. Expected to come in last are the Socialists and Rajoy's Popular Party.
Andoni Ortuzar, whose PNV has ruled the Basque region for much of Spain's post-Franco democratic era, said Rajoy had been like a "steam roller" and it was "unlikely" that the PNV was going to help him govern Spain as a whole.
"Rajoy is deaf at the moment," said Ortuzar.
Sunday's elections focus on economic issues, especially jobs and unemployment, just five years after ETA Basque separatists declared a halt to four decades of violence.
Jobs instead of violence
The Basque region is in better economic shape than much of Spain, with unemployment at 12.5 percent compared with 20 percent nationwide. The region's gross domestic product per capita is also 30 percent higher than the national average.
In a MyWord survey, only one percent of those surveyed said they were worried about ETA, while 58 percent said joblessness was a major concern.
The Popular Party's secretary general in the Basque region, Nerea Llanos, said the PNV should help Rajoy form a government so that "economic recovery can continue."
ipj/cw (Reuters, AFP, AP)