MADRID — Spain's center-right conservatives swept convincingly into power and into an economic hot seat Sunday as voters enduring 21.5 percent unemployment dumped the ruling Socialist government — the third time in as many weeks that Europe's debt crisis has toppled an administration.
The vote in the country with the eurozone's highest jobless rate and a center-stage spot in Europe's debt crisis saga came as the continent's troubles cause financial havoc across the globe. And the victory for Spain's Popular Party came just after financially troubled Greece and Italy saw their governments fall.
As thousands of cheering supporters waved red-and-yellow Spanish flags and blue-and-white Popular Party banners on a Madrid avenue outside party headquarters, future prime minister Mariano Rajoy called for Spaniards of all political stripes to work together to overcome the crisis — but sounded a somber note of warning for a country with an economy that has stalled.
"It is no secret to anyone that we are going to rule in the most delicate circumstances Spain has faced in 30 years," he said. "For me, there will be no enemies but unemployment, the deficit, excessive debt, economic stagnation and anything else that keeps our country in these critical circumstances."
But the 56-year old Rajoy gave no hints of how he will tackle Spain's unemployment nightmare — with a much higher rate for young adults. So far, Rajoy has only promised tax cuts for small- and medium-size companies that make up more than 90 percent of all firms in Spain.
Rajoy faces the towering task of restoring investor confidence and lowering Spain's soaring borrowing costs with deficit-reducing measures, while preventing an already moribund economy from heading into a double-dip recession. The country only just climbed out of one last year that was prompted by the bursting of a real estate bubble.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, the Popular Party had won 186 seats compared to 154 in the last legislature. The Socialists plummeted from 169 seats to 110, their worst performance ever.