INTERNATIONAL

Spain polls could shatter status quo

Spanish voters went to the polls Sunday in what is expected to be one of the most closely-fought contests in modern history as two dynamic new parties take on the country’s long-established political giants.

The general election caps off a year of electoral change in southern Europe after far-left party Syriza was swept to power in Greece in January and a coalition of leftists parties in Portugal pooled their votes in Parliament to unseat the conservative government in October.

Two-party dominance

Spain has been dominated for more than three decades by the conservative Popular Party and the main Opposition Socialists, who have alternated running the government. But this time around many voters are expected to cast their ballots for two upstart parties vying for change — the centrist Ciudadanos and the anti-austerity Podemos, a close ally of Greece’s Syriza.

Polls predict Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party will win the largest share of the vote but not enough to retain its absolute majority in Parliament. Such a result would force it to form an uneasy alliance with another political grouping.

And all bets are off regarding who will come second in the legislative elections, as the Socialists could end up neck-and-neck with Ciudadanos and Podemos, which would give these new parties unprecedented influence on the political scene. “The fact that a tectonic shift is about to shake up the Spanish political system is testified by the expected 80 per cent turnout... compared to 69 per cent in the 2011 election,” said analysts at UniCredit, calling Sunday’s polls “historic.” — AFP