Spanish election: Polls to open for fourth vote in four years

Far-right Vox supporters wave Spanish flags at a campaign rally in Santander last week. Suppport for Vox has been swelled by weeks of Catalan separatist protests

Far-right Vox supporters wave Spanish flags at a campaign rally in Santander last week. Suppport for Vox has been swelled by weeks of Catalan separatist protests

The opinion poll by GAD3 for public broadcaster RTVE published shortly after mainland voting ended at 7pm showed no clear advantage for either the leftist or the rightist bloc, pointing to a stalemate that could yet again fail to produce a working government.

Vox has already joined forces with Spain's two right-of-centre parties to take over many city and regional governments.

Spain's ruling Socialists party took an early lead in Sunday's general election but is likely to come up short of a majority, preliminary results showed.

The Socialists were pegged at just over 27% and poised to win between 114 and 119 seats, down from 123 they secured in the 350-seat house in April, according to GAD3. The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) may also strengthen its parliamentary presence.

But, the Socialists gained 120 seats and now look set to struggle to put together a ruling coalition in parliament.

Before voting began, Santiago Abascal, Vox's leader, asked for the support of traditional leftwing voters who felt "abandoned" by the Socialists.

Sunday's repeated election was called after the Socialists and United We Can, now Spain's fourth-largest party in parliament, failed to reach an agreement following the last election in April.

"Spain needs a progressive government that puts the brakes on the far-right and a government that puts the brakes on the extremists also here in Catalonia, who are the separatists", he said during his final campaign rally in Barcelona on Friday.

Spain's main parties focused their campaigns the independence crisis in Catalonia, as well as the threat of Vox's grown popularity.

"We think that combining the courage of United We Can and the experience of the Socialist party we can convert our country into a reference point for social policies", Iglesias said Sunday.

Other recent polls have suggested increased support for Vox since violent protests broke out in Catalonia following the sentencing of nine independence leaders to prison terms of up to 13-years last month.

More than 600 people were injured in the protests, which saw demonstrators torching barricades and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police.

In the previous general election, the 75.79% of the total electoral census went to vote, one of the highest turnout since democracy was restored in Spain four decades ago.

The 84-year-old did not want to say which party got his vote at a polling station in Madrid's northern Hortaleza neighbourhood where Abascal lives.

Meanwhile, Vox, which secured its first parliamentary seats in the previous election, could see its seats almost double from 24 to 46.

Spain has been caught in political paralysis since the election of December 2015 when far-left Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos entered parliament.

But there is a risk Sunday's vote will only prolong the agony.

Turnout was down by about 1.5m on the last elections, when more than 26 million people voted. "But these changes will not make it easier to form a government, so the political situation is likely to remain hard after this weekend's vote", he added.