Madrid – Spain is holding general elections this weekend amid an economic slump and a wave of voter dissatisfaction that the conservative main opposition Popular Party is expected to ride to a landslide victory.
Nearly 36 million eligible voters, 700,000 more than in the 2008 balloting, will head to the polls Sunday to elect 350 lower-house lawmakers and 208 senators, according to official figures.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, bowing to political pressure, had announced earlier this year that the general elections would be held on Nov. 20, four months before the originally scheduled date.
A sky-high unemployment rate and fears of contagion from a debt crisis that has rocked other parts of the euro zone have been the key issues in this year's campaign, in which concerns about Basque terrorist group ETA, which announced the "definitive cessation of its armed activity" on Oct. 20, have been relegated to a secondary plane.
Spain's incumbent Socialists are projected to be battered at the polls by voters fed up with a jobless rate that currently stands at 21.62 percent overall - more than double the European Union's average - and at 45 percent among people under the age of 25, as well as with an economy that grew at a sluggish clip of just 0.8 percent in the third quarter.
The conservative PP is projected to win a clear majority in the lower house of Spain's parliament (between 190-195 of 350 seats), which will also ensure that Mariano Rajoy takes the helm as the Iberian nation's next prime minister and the PP's first head of government since Jose Maria Aznar held office from 1996 to 2004.
The Socialists, whose candidate to succeed Zapatero is Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, trail the PP by 16 percentage points in the most recent voter-preference surveys and have struggled to win over an electorate frustrated with the government's management of the economic crisis.
Perez Rubalcaba also has been bogged down by his close ties to Zapatero, having held posts including first deputy premier and interior minister under the current government, which found itself forced to adopt unpopular austerity measures to bring its public deficit to GDP ratio in line with EU mandates.
Despite the bleak scenario, the veteran politician said "votes not polls" will be cast on Sunday.
Rajoy, who was defeated by Zapatero in 2004 and 2008, has already issued statements indicating that his victory is assured.
In a radio interview Friday, he urged financial markets that have sent Spain's debt risk premium - the extra return investors demand compared to safe-haven German government bonds - soaring in recent days to a record-high 500 basis points to give him a "minimum of time" to get the country back on track.
Rajoy also warned his supporters this week that they won't "wake up on Monday with everything in order as if by magic."
Besides the PP, other political groupings see voter discontent as a golden opportunity make inroads in Spain's political landscape.
They include the United Left coalition, which is projected to significantly boost its representation in Parliament on Sunday, the centrist Union, Progress and Democracy Party and the new leftist, pro-environment Equo party, all of which oppose Spain's current electoral rules and say it favors a two-party system.
The newly created pro-independence Basque coalition Amaiur also is expected to pick up a significant number of seats in the autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in the wake of ETA's announcement of an end to its armed struggle.