Spain’s ruling conservatives win election but lose majority
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The conservative People's Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy topped Spain's general election on Sunday but fell well short of an absolute majority amid a surge in support for anti-establishment parties.
With 99% of votes counted, Rajoy's party was seen winning 122 seats in the 350-strong parliament, well below the 186 it now holds – and 54 short of the 176 seats needed for an absolute majority.
The opposition Socialists came second with 91 seats, trailed by newcomer parties Podemos and Ciudadanos, which took third and fourth places respectively.
Anti-austerity Podemos was credited with 69 seats, while the more business-friendly Ciudadanos took 40, bringing Spain's traditional two-party system to an emphatic end.
Days or weeks of negotiations may be needed to determine who will govern the country, with Rajoy at risk of winning the election but losing the government for want of a suitable coalition partner.
FRANCE 24's correspondent in Madrid, Sarah Morris, said the four-horse race and lack of a clear winner marked "a brand-new era for democratic Spain".
End of two-party system
Morris said there was “a lot of excitement” as people headed to the polls – despite the risk of a hung parliament.
“People have been telling me that whatever happens, parliament will be a more democratic place,” she said.
Sunday's election had been billed as the most uncertain in the 40 years since the end of the Franco dictatorship and the return of democracy.
Spain has been dominated for more than three decades by the PP and the Socialists, which have alternated running the government.
But many voters said they were willing to shake up a political system they consider corrupt and unable to resolve the country’s economic woes, including a stubbornly high unemployment rate that keeps more than one in five out of work.
Andrew Dowling of Cardiff University's Hispanics Studies Department said the demise of Spain's mainstream parties was attributable to the "intensity of the economic crisis".
"The two traditionally dominant parties have failed between them to reach 50% of the vote, which shows the scale of the implosion," he told FRANCE 24, noting that the conservatives' and Socialists' aging electorates were further cause for concern.
Threat of stalemate
Dowling said that whatever coalition emerges from the elections would inevitably be "a coalition of improbable allies".
Rajoy has said he would seek an alliance with politicians outside his Popular Party to prevent a leftist coalition from taking power.
But even if he joined forces with fourth-placed Ciudadanos, his only natural partner, this would still leave the PP short of a majority in parliament.
That points to a stalemate that could hamper efforts to pull the EU’s fifth-largest economy out of the economic doldrums.
FRANCE 24's Morris said Podemos's strong showing would give it "enormous power in negotiations" to form a new government.
She noted that Podemos would have a hard time reneging on its pledge not to form a coalition with the Socialists, but that as things stand an alliance between the two left-wing parties "seems the most realistic option".
The Spanish constitution does not set a specific deadline to form a government after the election. Analysts say the negotiations to secure enough parliamentary support for a new prime minister to be picked could go over many weeks – and maybe even trigger another election.
While the current government has already passed next year’s budget, soothing any market concern over political instability, such a deadlock may be used by pro-independence Catalan parties to push their cause in Spain's wealthiest region.