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PP takes Extremadura from Socialists with left's help

United Left rebel lawmakers' abstention hands region to conservatives

The Popular Party's José Antonio Monago was elected regional premier of Extremadura on Thursday, taking over one of the Socialists' traditional stronghold regions, with controversial help from the United Left (IU) group.

Defying orders from their group's central committee, the three renegade IU Extremadura lawmakers abstained from voting for a regional premier, which allowed the PP to elect Monago with 32 votes out of a possible 65 in the regional assembly.

For the first time in 28 years, the PP will govern in the western region that borders Portugal.

IU national coordinator Cayo Lara had warned his fellow coalition members in Extremadura not to break the group's rules, which forbid doing anything that would help the conservative PP govern anywhere. But the three regional deputies said that they were obeying the mandate given to them by members of the local assemblies, who decided in June not to support the incumbent Socialist premier Guillermo Fernández Vara for another term.

"The world isn't going to stop nor is anything else going to happen" because of the abstention, explained Alejandro Nogales, one of the trio. "The only thing that is going to occur is that there is going to be a change of government, which is a normal occurrence in any full-fledged democracy."

But Pedro Escobar, another IU lawmaker, made it clear that his abstention shouldn't be interpreted as support for the PP. "We haven't seen anything yet of what you have promised to do," he told Monago. "And we do not trust in anything you have done," he added, referring to Vara.

The three could yet face an IU disciplinary panel. The outgoing Socialist premier has been charging for weeks that a secret pact had been made between the IU and PP, something Escobar denied on Thursday. "The pact you speak about is like the UFOs: they don't exist but everyone keeps talking about them."

For his part Monago tried to calm the tensions in the regional assembly by offering all the parties "hope, trust and positive energy to work together." He praised Vara for "putting ideologies aside" and being open to discussions, which drew applause.

But when the chamber settled, Monago got one dig in: "You have been a premier who has been good, but you haven't been a good premier."