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Spain votes in elections dominated by economy

By Harold Heckle

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 3:20 a.m. MST

Spain's Socialist candidate Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, right, shakes hands with an election worker during the Spanish general elections in Madrid on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011.

Arturo Rodriguez, Associated Press

MADRID — Spaniards began voting early Sunday in general elections dominated by the poor state of the economy, with polls indicating a likely win for the conservative Popular Party.

Booths opened at 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) with the southwestern Canary Islands lagging one hour behind in a different time zone. The Socialist candidate Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was among early voters.

"The next four years are going to be very important for our future," said Rubalcaba. "The big decisions that have to be taken must be made by citizens, so it's important to vote," he added, exhorting his party's followers. A low turnout by voters would likely further hinder the Socialists' chances of retaining office.

Poor weather had caused some polling stations to open late, and a station in the country's south had to be relocated because of flooding, election office spokesman Felix Monteira said.

Voters are casting ballots to elect 350 members of Parliament and 208 senators. Stations will close at 9 p.m. Canary Islands time (2100 GMT), with the first results expected to filter through about an hour later, Monteira said.

Polls have pointed to defeat for the Socialists, with Mariano Rajoy's center-right PP likely to be elected to try and steer the country from financial crisis.

Almost two years of recession have left Spain with a euro-zone high 21.5 percent unemployment rate and a bloated budget deficit. The country's key borrowing rate rose above 6 percent for five consecutive days last week, just one percent below a rate considered unsustainable.

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