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Radicalism or safety first? Spain wavers before vote

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Radicalism or safety first? Spain wavers before vote
Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, on the campaign trail last week. Photo: AFP
14:09 CEST+02:00
In Spain's southern tourist hotspot Jerez de la Frontera, Cristian Garcia whiles away the day sitting on a bench with his mates. Unemployed, he will vote for a far-left coalition led by Podemos in Sunday's elections.

It's a different story more than 600 kilometres (370 miles) north in the affluent town of Paracuellos de Jarama, where many are veering to the right in fear of the arrival of what some dub the "communists", referring to the Unidos Podemos coalition.

Across the nation, the second general election in six months is pitting voters hungry for change in a country with sky-high unemployment against those who fear this change would worsen the situation for Spain, which was on the brink of collapse just a few years ago.

They have the choice between four major political groupings after the emergence of upstarts Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos last year uprooted the country's two-party dominance.

This upheaval meant that the last elections in December resulted in a hung parliament, after which parties failed to agree on a coalition, prompting Sunday's repeat vote.

And while opinion polls suggest the acting conservative Popular Party (PP) will come first without an absolute majority like it did in December, Unidos Podemos may now come second with its appealing promise of change and hope.

Hoping for change is exactly what Cristian Garcia is doing, sitting in Andalusia's Jerez de la Frontera.

The city known for its sherry, dancing horses and flamenco also had the third worst jobless rate in the country in 2015, at 39.4 percent.

"There's no work. And if there is, it's precarious and badly-paid," says Garcia.

Matias Yunes, from Jerez too, will also vote Unidos Podemos, a coalition that includes green-communist grouping Izquierda Unida.

He graduated as an architect three years ago, and hasn't found anything other than temporary work.

Unemployment is one of the hot-button issues of the elections, with Spain the second worst off in the European Union after Greece.

In the first quarter of the year, the jobless rate stood at 21 percent. For the under-25s, it shot up to 46.5 percent.

Acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy vaunts that he has got unemployment down from a peak of 26.9 percent in early 2013, but his critics retort that the jobs created are mainly unstable and temporary.

Like other parties, Unidos Podemos has promised to address this issue if it comes to power, for instance, by implementing a guaranteed minimum monthly income for all households, or ditching a controversial 2012 labour law reform.

The Socialists have also pledged to ditch the reform, which makes it easier to fire workers, and also raise the minimum wage.

But goodwill for the Socialists has died down even in their southern stronghold of Andalusia, which they have ruled for decades but where many have yet to see their lives improve.

There, the party was hit by two corruption scandals, including one involving the alleged embezzlement of European funds destined for training the unemployed.

But Rafael Rivera, who sells goodies from a cart on a beach not far from Jerez, says he will stick with the Socialists like he has always done.

"You can see that Podemos are enthusiastic, but I don't trust them," he says, metres away from a tranquil sea under a cloudless sky.

Both the PP and Socialists -- fearful of being replaced as the main left-wing force -- have campaigned hard against Unidos Podemos, with Rajoy bluntly warning of "radicalism."

And that resonates with Felipe Abalos, up north in Paracuellos de Jarama.

"It's dangerous, we don't know what they will do," says this 73-year-old former financial director, sitting under the cool water vapour sprays of a restaurant terrace.

Another customer, Julio Sampedro, concurs.

"Podemos seems what is closest to communism. If the Unidos Podemos coalition comes to power, I would panic," he says.

In the December elections, many in this affluent 24,000-strong town voted for centre-right upstart Ciudadanos, tired of the PP and its repeated corruption scandals.

But the rise of Podemos is making some wonder whether they shouldn't opt for the safe option of the PP, like Myriam Garcia, a 19-year-old student.

"I don't like Podemos at all", she says, pointing to its minimum income pledge. "But who is going to pay?" she asks.

Antonio Romero, an 82-year-old sitting on the main square with a walking stick in hand, sums up the general feeling.

"At least with the one we have now (Rajoy), we know what he will do."

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