The country will become the latest to hand over the keys to leaders who promise to soothe markets by cutting, reforming and liberalizing their way to economic growth. Greece’s and Italy’s governments also toppled in recent weeks, and Portugal and Ireland switched leaders in the past year.
“It’s very clear how things have been going,” said Aguda Villamarin, 24, a public health contractor who was voting in a working-class area of Madrid. “Each party fights for their own people, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the people in the street.”
In Greece and Italy, voters didn’t get a say. In Spain, they will — but many voters say they see little alternative to the prevailing economic orthodoxy of the times, since Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pursued initiatives long favored by Europe’s fiscal conservatives, not his own red-flag-waving Socialists. Many Madrid residents interviewed Sunday said they were voting for smaller parties that stood little chance of winning power.
In a country where youth unemployment tops 40 percent, young voters — who have the most time to benefit if the country gets back on track — are the least enthusiastic about their options. Many are turning away from democracy altogether, taking to the streets to express their frustration in the days leading up to Sunday’s vote.
“There’s a deficit of democracy,” said Nuria Sanchez, 31, a social researcher who has been involved in the protests.
“Our generation is the first generation that’s going to have a lower standard of living than our parents,” she said, echoing a view widely held among young Spaniards. “It’s a constant source of uncertainty, living day to day.”
Spain has implemented more economic reforms than Italy or Greece, where, until their recent leadership changes, European bureaucrats agonized about political intransigence. Zapatero surprised opponents and supporters alike when he proposed a constitutional amendment to limit the country’s ability to go into debt, long a pet policy of Europe’s fiscal conservatives.
Spain will still fall short of its economic targets this year, and unemployment has only gone up. But as the borrowing costs of less risky European countries such as France, Austria and the Netherlands have risen in recent days, analysts say there may be little that any individual country can do to stave off trouble. Spain’s borrowing costs soared to their highest since 1997 on Thursday, nearly 7 percent, prompting Zapatero to beg for European intervention to keep them lower.
The situation has many here swallowing hard and hoping for better times. Many young people have low expectations. Large-scale street protests in May that culminated in an encampment on Madrid’s main plaza were a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States. Protesters, most of them young, complained that they saw little difference between the two main political parties; they called themselves indignados, or “the outraged.”