MADRID • Spaniards voted yesterday in a parliamentary election in which the anti-austerity party Podemos is expected to make big gains, potentially delivering a fresh jolt to Europe's political mainstream after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
The last election, in December, ended 40 years of stable conservative or Socialist majorities and failed to produce a government, as upstart parties channelled growing resentment of the establishment following an economic crisis and a series of corruption scandals.
Opinion polls suggest the Parliament that emerges this time will be just as fragmented as the previous one. Four big parties and six smaller regional ones are likely to win seats in the 350-strong assembly, none of them coming close to a majority.
The centre-right People's Party (PP) looks set to be the biggest party again, with around 120 seats. But its natural coalition partner, the liberal Ciudadanos ("Citizens"), appears likely to win only about 40 seats, leaving them well short of the 176 needed for a majority.
In theory, the rise of Unidos Podemos ("Together We Can"), a leftist alliance led by Podemos, could offer a way out. The 90 seats it is expected to win, combined with around 80 for the Socialist Party (PSOE), would be close to a majority. Support from some of the regional parties could enable them to form a government.
Many analysts believe, however, that the 137-year-old Socialist Party would prefer to form a "grand coalition" with the PP, led by acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, or give passive support to a minority PP government rather than combine with a group that threatens their existence.
"This is a crucial time for the left. Our time has come," said Mr Carlos Martinez, a retired administrative clerk who cast his ballot for Unidos Podemos in the Arganzuela neighbourhood in the south of Madrid.
However, the 77-year-old, who voted in December for the former communists of United Left, now part of Unidos Podemos, said the anti-austerity alliance might find it hard to govern because other parties may coalesce to block it.
Ms Silvia Gea, a 39-year-old pharmacist from Madrid and long-time PP voter who cast her ballot for Ciudadanos in December, said she backed the PP this time around because she hoped it would help unlock the six-month stalemate.
Yet, she doubted that political parties would reach an agreement any time soon. "I can see us coming back here to vote in six months' time," she said.