A strong showing Sunday by a pair of upstart parties in Spain’s general election threatened to upend the country’s traditional two-party system, with results showing the ruling Popular Party won the most votes but fell far short of a parliamentary majority and risked being booted from power.
Days or weeks of negotiations may be needed to determine who will govern Spain, with the new far left Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos parties producing shockwaves because of strong support from voters weary of the country’s political status quo.
In past elections, Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists were the established powerhouses and only needed support from tiny Spanish parties to get a majority in parliament when they didn’t win one from voters.
“Spain has changed,” said Inigo Errejon, who holds the No. 2 position in Podemos. “Many people have lost their confidence in traditional parties. The two—party system has ended.”
With 63 percent of the vote counted, the Popular Party was heading toward winning 125 seats in the 350—member lower house of Parliament far below the 186 majority it now holds.
The main opposition Socialist Party was on track to win 94 seats, while Podemos and allies were heading toward winning 68 and Ciudadanos set to get 34.
Exit polls also showed similar outcomes that analysts said could make it extremely difficult for the Popular Party to form a government because it wouldn’t get a majority of seats in parliament by allying with Ciudadanos, its most natural partner.
But the Socialists could team up with Podemos and Ciudadanos in a three—way “coalition of losers” similar to an outcome that happened in Portugal last month.
“If the current poll predictions are confirmed, then it looks like a Socialist government,” said Federico Santi, a London—based analyst with the Eurasia Group political risk consultancy.
“Reaching a deal between the Socialists, Ciudadanos and Podemos is not going to be straightforward ... but if the alternative is leaving the country without a government, the pressure will be on the parties.”
Podemos and Ciudadanos both gained strength by portraying the Popular Party and the Socialists as out—of—touch behemoths run by politicians who care more about maintaining their own power than citizens’ needs.
Spain’s 36.5 million registered voters were electing representatives to the lower house of parliament and to the Senate, which has less legislative power. Voting was brisk with lines outside some polling station and voter participation of 58.4 percent by 6 p.m. (1700 GMT, 12 p.m. EST), up slightly compared to the 2011 election.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he would seek an alliance to prevent a leftist coalition from taking power.