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MADRID (Reuters) – Spain held its second parliamentary election this year on Sunday, with voters seen as likely to deliver no clear winner, an even more fragmented parliament and a sizeable boost to the far-right.
Opinion polls ahead of the vote showed no single party winning a majority. The Socialists were in the lead but likely to win slightly fewer seats than in April’s vote, while the conservative People’s Party (PP) could gain strength and the far-right Vox could become the third-largest party, just months after winning its first parliamentary seats.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called the election – the fourth in four years – betting that a new vote would strengthen his hand after his Socialist Party won in April but then failed to forge the alliances needed to form a government.
Spain has struggled to put stable governments together since 2015, when new parties emerged from the financial crisis following decades during which power oscillated between the Socialists and the PP.
Esperanza de Antonio, a 64-year old retired history teacher voting in Madrid for the Socialists, was concerned over the rise of Vox, which she called a danger to democracy.
“I’m saying this because I’ve taught about fascism for 30 years,” she told Reuters. Older Spaniards still remember first-hand the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
But Carmen Queral, a 44-year old primary school teacher, said a strong Vox is precisely what Spain needs. “We need change,” she said after voting at a central Madrid polling station.
Voting will end at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) in mainland Spain. Results should begin emerging in the early evening, with almost all votes counted by midnight.
One thing was certain on Sunday: voters are tired of being called to the polls – there were also regional and European Union elections this year. That alone increases the chances that parties will make more of an effort this time to reach a deal over governing and shy away from a repeat ballot.
“Well I’m bored because this is not normal,” voter Elisa Varea said. “It’s not normal that they don’t reach an agreement. If there are no absolute majority, the least they could to is to support each other to lift the country because like this we are not going anywhere.”
A minority government led by the Socialists appears the most likely outcome, opinion polls showed, but an even bigger question is who the Socialists may ally with and how long any government can last with a very fragmented parliament.
Pablo Iglesias, leader of the far-left Unidas Podemos, which had tried and failed to hammer out a coalition government deal with Sanchez, made a new call for a leftist alliance.
“On our behalf we are going to leave the arguments behind and start working together,” he told reporters after voting.
Sanchez avoided questions on Sunday about a likely political stalemate, only calling on Spaniards to get out and vote.
First official turnout data at 2 p.m. (1300 GMT), showed a drop in voter numbers from the previous election – around 38% compared with 41.5% in April.
Violent protests by separatists in the northeastern region of Catalonia last month have overshadowed the campaign, delivering a boost to the right, and in particular to Vox and the PP, whose fiercely anti-separatist rhetoric has struck a chord with many voters.
Polls suggest that support for Vox could as much as double, even if pollsters have found it difficult to estimate the new party’s popularity.
In the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona, Anna Torres, 72, said she voted for the left-wing, pro-independence ERC.
“We have to protest because we disagree. It’s an injustice,” she said, referring to the long prison sentences handed down to nine separatist leaders in mid-October.
She criticized Catalonia’s three main separatist parties for not running under one platform and said her vote would be useless because Spain would most likely have another election soon because no party would reach a majority.
Madrid sent 2,500 additional national police officers to reinforce Catalonia’s regional police force.
In total more than 92,000 police will be deployed across Spain to safeguard the vote.
Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, Emma Pinedo, Joan Faus, Elena Rodriguez, Jessica Jones, Nathan Allen, Leon Malherbe, Miguel Gutierrez; Writing by Jessica Jones and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Frances Kerry