- Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero convenes a Cabinet meeting Monday
- Opposition conservatives are expected to win during Spain's economic crisis
- Polls indicate Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy has a double-digit lead
Spain's Socialist Prime Minister announced Monday the dissolution of parliament in order to hold early elections on November 20, which polls indicate the opposition conservatives will win handily during Spain's deep economic crisis.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said last April he would not seek a third term. He has been squeezed by the nation's prolonged economic downturn. The unemployment rate is almost 21%, and almost 5 million are jobless.
Numerous opinion polls indicate opposition Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, 56, has a double-digit lead -- from 10 to 15 percentage points -- over the Socialists.
On Monday, Zapatero convened a Cabinet meeting, and the only order of business was to approve a decree to convene early elections on November 20.
Zapatero has talked publicly about this for weeks, a sharp change from his stance earlier this year when he said he intended to serve out his full four-year term due to end in March 2012.
Rajoy has lost twice to Zapatero, in 2004 and 2008. But his conservative party swept to victory in regional and local elections last May, presaging what the polls predict will be a triumph for Rajoy the third time around.
He's a former Cabinet minister under the conservative administration of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar from 1996 to 2004.
Rajoy has been criticized for not revealing detailed plans of how to get Spain out of its crisis, especially at a time when financial markets have battered Spain. Many international analysts say Spain could be at even further risk, along with Italy and Portugal, if troubled Greece defaults on its debt.
Rajoy said over the weekend that if elected, he would install a 100-day shock plan of "austerity and efficiency" so that national, regional and local governments get in step to avoid duplication in spending.
The Socialist candidate is Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, 60, who served under Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and most recently under Zapatero, rising to the positions of deputy prime minister and interior minister.
He told supporters over the weekend that the elections during this crisis are among the most important in Spain's 30 years of democracy following the death of the long-ruling dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
After the Cabinet meeting on Monday, Zapatero formally informed King Juan Carlos of the decision and then spoke to reporters at the prime minister's compound.
"Today is not a day to take stock of this government," Zapatero said in a nationally-televised statement. "Today is a day to open the balance for the candidates to present their plans and for the people to decide freely about them."
"I have great confidence in Spain," Zapatero added. "I know that sooner than later we'll get out of these difficulties."
The pre-campaign has been underway for months, but the official campaign will begin on November 4, two weeks before the vote.