Spanish voters deal blow to bipartisanship

Spain faced a changed political landscape Monday after the country's two major parties lost ground in the European elections to insurgent parties that tapped into voter discontent with traditional politics.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, which has pushed through painful spending cuts since coming to power in 2011, won 16 seats in Sunday's vote while the Socialist Party took 14 seats.

The two parties, which have dominated Spanish politics since the country returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975, lost a combined 17 seats in the European parliament, leaving them with 30 out of Spain's 54 seats.

Their combined share of the vote fell from around 80 percent in the last European elections in 2009 to 49 percent this time around -- the first time since the return to democracy that they have failed to get more than half of the ballots cast in an election.

Top-selling daily newspaper El Pais said the outcome was a "serious punishment" for Spain's two dominant parties whose proposals to revive Spain's economy are "too similar, despite the slogans".

"The results auger a more open political landscape that may be a prelude to the next national election," it added in an editorial titled "Blow to Bipartisanship".

Eight smaller, mostly anti-austerity leftist parties shared the remaining 24 seats, with "Podemos", a new party born out of Spain's "Indignant" movement against economic inequality that occupied Spanish squares three years ago, beating expectations and winning five seats.

The formation, whose named means "We Can" in English, was the fourth most voted party in the election, coming just behind the Plural Left, a coalition of left-wing parties, that took six seats, up from two.

The centrist UPyD party won four seats, up from just one.

"Maybe we can talk about the end of bipartisanship. It is true that the main parties are in retreat. What we must do now is pursue them in retreat," Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said after the vote.

"We are going to work with other colleagues from southern Europe to say in the European Parliament that we don't want to be a colony of Germany or the Troika," he added in a reference to the three bodies -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank -- that have overseen austerity programmes in European nations.

The party benefited from Iglesias' high media profile. The 35-year-old political science professor, who studied philosophy of communication in Switzerland, is a regular panelist on political talk shows and ballots featured a photo of his face.

Daily newspaper El Mundo said Iglesias had managed to "fill the leadership vacuum" that had characterised the Internet-fueled "Indignant" movement since it emerged in 2011.

Like other small parties Podemos also successfully tapped into anger over a jobless rate of around 26 percent, steep government spending cuts to public services and corruption scandals that have tainted Spain's mainstream parties.

Arcadio Pacheco, an 18-year-old who voted for the first time on Sunday, said he was drawn to the party because its candidates were "workers, bakers, cooks, or whatever, which makes it closer to the people."

Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos, a small centrist party that won two seats, said voters had decided to punish "those who have driven many families to a dramatic economic situation".

The Popular Party said it was satisfied with the result.

The party's secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal pointed out that Spain was one of the few nations where the ruling party won the European elections.

The Socialist Party's top candidate in the election, Elena Valenciano, said the results were "hard, difficult".

Turnout was 45.7 percent, up from 44.9 percent in the last European Parliament election in 2009, bucking a trend towards declining participation in European elections.