UPDATE: The candidates have now all addressed the nation following the results. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has said “Spain has put an end to the revolving door political system and is beginning a new era. We are the first political force in terms of votes in Catalonia and in the Basque Country and the second in Madrid and Valencia.”
Pedro Sanchez of the PSOE has conceded victory to the PP but adds “there is a new political phase in Spain that leaves behind imposition and opens a process of dialogue and agreement.”
Ciadadanos chief Albert Rivera also spoke of a “new political era” and said “millions of Spaniards have decided that Spain is going to change. We are going to take part in political change.”
Prime Minister Rajoy has just spoken “We have won the elections again, Solid bases have been laid down for the future, with more than 1.6 million votes and 30 seats difference over the second-biggest force.”
“Whoever wins the election has to try to form a government and I am going to try to do so because Spain needs a stable government.”
UPDATE: Leaders of the right and left vie for attention as the results indicate a hollow victory for the PP while Podemos has thrived on the left.
Pablo Iglesias, leader of the anti-austerity party, is the first party leader to address the nation declaring “Spain has voted for a change of system”.
Meanwhile deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santa Maria has announced “The PP has won these elections.”
Almost 96 per cent of the votes are now counted and as things stand the PP has won 122, a third less than their 2011 total of 186.
The Socialist opposition has had a disastrous outing with an historically low 91 deputies, while Podemos has reached an impressive 69 seats for a party that did not even exist during the last election.
Other emergent party Ciudadanos, considered a potential kingmaker in a split congress, have secured a disappointing 40 seats but will still be considered a major player given the lack of any immediate victor or obvious path to governance.
Leaders of the centre-right anti-corruption party have now insisted they will not support a government led by either of the current PP or PSOE leaders, giving rise to the distinct possibility that Mariano Rajoy’s party may have won these elections but he will not remain as Prime Minister.
UPDATE: With 76.68 per cent of the votes counted, the results thus far are confirming the first full exit polls with the PP on course to win more votes than any other party but fall far short of securing an overall majority.
PP are on 123 seats, PSOE on 93, Podemos 68, and Ciudadanos 37 in the 350 member congress.
Catalan premier Artur Mas’s party Democracy and Liberty have reached eight seats while the Basque Nationalist Party have six so far.
The emergent results show an expected tainted victory for the PP and excellent result for anti -austerity insurgents Podemos.
Coalition negotiations are bound to be fraught with difficulty given the fractured nature of the results.
UPDATE: The first exit polls are out and indicate the ruling Popular Party (PP) will win the most votes but fall short of an overall majority.
An early TV3 poll has the PP winning 114-118 seats in the 350 member congress. The Socialist Party (PSOE) are second on 81-85, Podemos third with 76-80, and Ciudadanos fourth with 47-50.
The exit poll is of course subject to change as the votes continue to be counted, however, if these figures are accurate it will represent the worst result in the Socialists history. The PP have said the results will indicate a victory for Prime Minister Rajoy’s party but their numbers would still be their lowest since 1989.
Ciudadanos will be massively disappointed if the initial polls prove to be accurate having anticipated much higher numbers than the projected 47-50.
Podemos are expected to triumph in Catalunya and the Basque Country at the expense of separatist parties in the northern regions. They are also expected to come in second in Madrid behind the PP.
UPDATE: Turnout figures are in for the 6pm mark in different regions as the world’s media start camping outside the Spanish Congress in Madrid.
With two hours to go until the polls close turnout stood at 58.29 per cent which is only half a percentage point higher than the 2011 election.
The cities are clocking up the highest rates with Madrid five points above the national average at 63 per cent, Catalunya has seen a marked increase on 2011 levels with 56.57 per cent turning out so far.
Andalusia is bucking the trend with a lower turnout than at the same time four years ago at 55.96 per cent as of 6pm.
Nationwide the rising figures are good news for those concerning by earlier data suggesting an even lower turnout than in 2011 which would be a shock to the media establishment given the tightness of the race.
Preliminary results expected circa 11pm local time.
UPDATE: DOUBTS have been raised over initial turnout figures which suggest little change from 2011 as voters flock to the polls across Spain.
All the leaders of the competing parties have now cast their vote and polls will close at 8pm local time.
Expectations had been raised of an enormous turnout approaching 80 per cent but an indication of the true numbers will not emerge until approximately 6.30pm.
Madrid had seen more voters than 2011 by 2pm although Catalunya had seen a decrease.
The first exit polls will come at roughly 8pm whilst live television broadcasts should begin announcing provisional results from 11pm this evening.
POLLS are now open as Spain elects a new government in the most uncertain and hotly anticipated election in generations.
Turnout of up to 80 per cent is anticipated in a reflection of the high stakes, and growing sense among the electorate that real change is a distinct possibility.
Emerging parties Podemos and Ciudadanos, led by Pablo Iglesias and Albert Rivera respectively, are expected to take a sizeable number of seats from establishment parties the ruling Popular Party (PP) and the main opposition Socialist party (PSOE).
While the results will be uncertain until the first accurate exit polls begin to emerge, observers are adamant that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will lose his absolute majority in the 350 member congress.
The key question is whether the PP will be able to secure a viable minority government or will enter into a full coalition with the more philosophically allied Ciudadanos on the right in order to shut out a possible left-wing coalition.
It is Spain’s 12th general election since the fall of Franco in the late 1970s and the first since then that has seen such a plurality of parties in with a genuine shot at governance.
Updates to follow.