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'Brexit' Sentiments Hang Over Spanish Elections For Voters Wanting Change

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Spaniards go to the polls today. These are the first elections in Europe since Britain's vote to leave the European Union. Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid on whether the forces of discontent and change may sweep southward to another EU country - Spain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The Spanish stock index plunged more than 12 percent. "Worst Session Ever" was the banner headline. Sixty-four billion euros - the equivalent of $71 billion - lost. Spaniards are no strangers to markets in a tailspin. They've just emerged from a punishing recession. Nobody wants to repeat that.

MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: The incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged calm after Britain's surprise vote.

RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: This is no time for uncertainty but rather institutional stability, Rajoy said. He wants voters to re-elect his conservatives. This is not the time for experiments, he said. What Rajoy calls experimental opponents call a fresh start, a break with his old order.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Spanish).

FRAYER: Si se puede - yes, we can - is the slogan of the new leftist coalition challenging Rajoy's conservatives. It's called Unidos Podemos - Together We Can. Its leaders are a communist and a ponytailed professor both in their 30s. They joined forces after inconclusive elections in December, a four-way tie among parties that left Rajoy a lame duck prime minister for the past six months.

In a Madrid park, the Espinosa family is having a picnic for their 22-year-old daughter Damaris, who's just back after two years working minimum wage jobs in London. She says she'll vote Unidos Podemos.

DAMARIS ESPINOSA: So I just came back and I feel that the people like me, we want the change. And we've got hope and we're just waiting for something to change and have a possibility to develop our careers and our life in our country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S MY LIFE")

BON JOVI: (Singing) It's my life and it's now or never.

FRAYER: A Unidos Podemos rally is underway in the same park. This new leftist coalition has huge backing from Spanish youth who are still plagued by 46 percent unemployment despite an economy that is finally growing again.

JOSE MARIA MOLL: From a macro economic, yeah, that might be true but not for the people's own pockets.

FRAYER: Jose Maria Moll is a 42-year-old financial analyst. He hangs back from the rally not entirely convinced.

MOLL: My friends that have a pretty good life, they are also a little bit worried or they say don't vote Podemos because they're going to take everything away and so on and so on. I do not know exactly what they're going to do. And I think that they are proposing things that make lots of sense.

FRAYER: They promise to fight corruption that's tainted Rajoy's conservatives, raise taxes on the rich and stop home foreclosures. What they don't stand for is an exit from Europe. That's one thing Spaniards agree on. The EU has helped transform their country with investment in public infrastructure and access to credit. The question is whether Brexit will prompt them to vote for change or more of the same. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.