Spain Readies For General Elections

Before getting ready to head to the polls for Sunday's general elections over 34 million Spanish voters are observing Saturday a day of reflection free of electioneering events.

A gathering planned by "indignant" protesters angry at austerity measures, high unemployment and politicians they consider inept attracted few participants at Madrid's downtown Puerta del Sol on Saturday.

Voting to elect 350 members of Parliament and 208 senators begins 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) Sunday in an election that many predict will oust the Socialists in favor of the conservative Popular Party.

A near two-year recession has burdened the country with a euro-zone high 21.5 percent unemployment rate and a budget deficit.

Spain's key borrowing rate rose above 6 percent for five days running this week, just 1 percent below a rate considered unsustainable.

"We hope this (pressure) stops and that people realize there's an election here and that the party that wins has the right to a minimum margin," the candidate for Spain's center-right Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy told Onda Cero radio.

Socialist Finance Minister Elena Salgado said the increased interest rates were more to do with market tension than Spain's economy, which she insisted was beginning to show the fruits of reforms.

She said the effects of the increases would be marginal. "Spain has no problems seeking finance on the market," she added.

But Salgado urged the European Central bank to remain active in buying bonds on the secondary market to helped targeted countries and said the European Union must step up efforts to reduce the current tension.

We hope this (pressure) stops and that people realize there's an election here and that the party that wins has the right to a minimum margin.

— Mariano Rajoy, candidate for Spain's Popular Party

Political parties campaigned until midnight Friday before giving voters the traditional day to reflect before voting.

Rajoy has promised to get Spain's economy working again to reduce the 5 million jobless number but has been vague on details. He acknowledges there will be cutbacks but recognizes he has no magic wand.

His Socialist opponent Alfredo Rubalcaba, former interior minister, claims Rajoy plans to dismantle much of Spain's welfare state and cut back on worker rights to favor businesses. Rubalcaba has all but acknowledged he has lost the election.

Outgoing Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigo Zapatero is not running for a third term.

Deputies are to take their seats in parliament Dec. 13 and a new government formed over the following days.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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