Spain's Podemos fails to break two-party hold in key Andalusia vote

Update: March, 23/2015 - 10:42

SEVILLE, Spain — Spain's anti-austerity Podemos party on Sunday took third place in a regional vote in Andalusia seen as a crucial test for the political newcomer ahead of the country's most unpredictable general election in decades.

With 89.5 per cent of the ballots counted by late evening, Podemos had won 14.8 per cent of the vote in the southern region, according to the regional government.

But it was not enough to challenge the dominance of the two traditional heavyweights in the country's political arena.

The main opposition Socialist Party, in power in Andalusia since 1982, topped the poll, winning 35.8 per cent of the vote.

The conservative Popular Party, the country's ruling party, came second with 26.4 per cent – down from 40 per cent in the previous election in the 2012.

The two parties have taken turns governing Spain since the 1980s but with a national election due around November they are nervously eyeing the rise of Podemos – buoyed by the victory of its ally Syriza in Greece – and that of another upstart, the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens).

Podemos told the private Sexta channel that it had weakened the country's "bipartisanship", noting that the two main parties together claimed 80 per cent of the Andalusian vote in the last election, compared to around 60 per cent now.

Podemos deputy leader Inigo Errejon added that Andalusia, one of the country's poorest regions, was different from other parts of Spain with a "more rural" and older population inclined "to preserve the traditional balance."

Sunday's vote in the recession-ravaged region of farms and tourist beaches was seen as a prime testing ground for Spain's new political dynamic, transformed by the economic crisis and ensuing austerity measures.

The near-complete results gave no single party an absolute majority in the regional parliament from Andalusia's 6.5 million voters.

If confirmed, the Socialists would take 47 out the 109 seats up for grabs, the Popular Party would secure 33 seats, Podemos would take 15 and Ciudadanos nine after winning 9 per cent of the vote.

Highest unemployment

Figures issued at 1400GMT appeared to show turnout was "significantly higher" than in the last election, the regional government said.

"Everyone will interpret the results (in Andalusia) as if it were a first round in the general elections," said Anton Losada, a political scientist at Santiago de Compostela university.

The winner may have to strike an alliance with Podemos or Ciudadanos, foreshadowing what coalitions may later be forged to govern Spain.

Andalusia was among the regions hardest hit by the collapse of Spain's housing market and ensuing financial crisis in 2008. Its unemployment rate is the highest in Europe at 34.2 per cent.

Socialist leaders there, along with some union representatives, have been hit by a series of corruption scandals. They have also fallen out with their current coalition partners, the United Left.

The near-complete results on Sunday were in line with opinion polls, which had predicted a loss of support for the Popular Party, blamed by voters for hardship under the economic cuts its national government has imposed.

Podemos and Ciudadanos had ranked third and fourth respectively in polls of voting intentions in Andalusia.— AFP