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In Spain, Voters Lean Toward Conservatives' Safety And Security


Spain held elections yesterday - the first in Europe since Britain's vote to leave the EU. Brexit has driven Spanish markets down, and it appears to have driven Spanish voters toward the perceived safety and security of incumbent conservatives. From Madrid, Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: There was a huge party after midnight at the headquarters of Spain's conservative party, the Partido Popular, or PP.


MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We've gotten Spain through difficult times," said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, referring to Spain's crippling recession. "And Spaniards want us to stay in power through the uncertainty of Brexit." Rajoy's conservatives gained 14 seats in parliament, but fell short of an absolute majority. If that sounds familiar, it's because this is the second Spanish election in six months with more or less the same outcome. Coalition-building could take months. At a polling station in central Madrid, I asked people whether Brexit changed the way they voted. Moraya Grau, a 45-year-old architect, said no way. She stuck with the anti-establishment left.

MORAYA GRAU: Some people are saying that people are going to be afraid and that they're going to want some security, and security is what is already there. But I don't really think so. I mean, there's nothing to be afraid of, really.

FRAYER: Martin Gonzalez explained his vote for Rajoy's PP.

MARTIN GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It wasn't actually for the PP," he says, "but against Unidos Podemos." That's the new left-wing anti-establishment coalition. Europe has been watching to see if anger at the status quo might play out in another EU country, although the issue in Spain isn't EU membership. It's corruption and unemployment.



FRAYER: Si, se puede - yes we can - is the movement's slogan. But on Sunday, they couldn't. In recent weeks, opinion polls had shown Unidos Podemos surging to the number-two force in Spanish politics. But after Brexit, voters opted for the status quo.

PABLO IGLESIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "The PP's main focus was to keep us out of power," said Pablo Iglesias, the 37-year-old ponytailed professor who leads Unidos Podemos. And it worked, he said. Anxiety over Brexit did not appear to affect the huge support leftists got from Spain's youth, who still suffer 46 percent unemployment here - people like Jaime Nolla, who moved to Germany a couple of years ago to find work. He flew home to vote Sunday. I asked him what he thinks of that plea for stability from Rajoy, who has one of the lowest approval ratings of any Spanish leader.

JAIME NOLLA: Of course Rajoy doesn't want any change. Rajoy is perfect. And we need - we need new things, and we have to rethink about Europe - what kind of Europe we need and we want to have.

FRAYER: Spaniards overwhelmingly want to stay in the EU. It's transformed their country with public-infrastructure investment and access to credit. There's no risk of an exit from the European Union here. What is likely is a continued political stalemate for months to come. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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