September 3, 2015 / 7:39 AM / in 2 years

Spain's Rajoy says general election likely on December 20

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will probably hold national elections on December 20, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Thursday, leaving him less than four months to persuade Spaniards an economic recovery is good enough to warrant giving him a second term in office.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy speaks during the opening of a political event of the ruling Popular Party (PP) at a castle in the Galician village of Soutomaior, northern Spain, August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

“Once the budget is approved ... I will call elections... They will be in December,” Rajoy said in an interview with COPE radio. Elections are due by year-end.

Pressing for the exact date, the journalist asked if he could conclude from the interview that the most likely date for the election was Dec. 20.

Rajoy replied: “Use the headline you said: The most likely thing is that Spain will hold elections on Dec. 20.”

His center-right People’s Party’s hold on power has been loosened not only by its mainstream rival, the Socialists, but also from two newcomers, business-friendly Ciudadanos and left-wing Podemos, which have proved attractive to voters still struggling in the aftermath of economic crisis and what many view as a corruption-tainted establishment.

A strong economic turnaround, which is set to make Spain one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies this year, has seen Rajoy’s party extend its lead in the polls.

But it remains well short of an absolute majority and the question for many Spaniards is whether the improving economy is filtering down to their daily lives. Unemployment is falling but remains above 20 percent.

In the interview, Rajoy also reiterated his implacable opposition to Catalan independence, saying: “Catalan independence will never happen. It’s nonsense.”

Catalan President Arturo Mas has scheduled regional elections for Sept. 27, portraying them as a proxy vote on independence after Rajoy’s government went to court last year to block a referendum on the northeastern region breaking away from Spain.

Reporting by Adrian Croft, Sonya Dowsett and Inmaculada Sanz; editing by John Stonestreet

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