Two new Spanish political parties are putting their strength to the test in parliamentary elections in Andalusia. The poll comes ahead of an expected general election later this year.
With some 6.5 Andalusians eligible to vote in Sunday's poll, amounting to a fifth of the national electorate, the election is being seen as a significant indicator of voter sentiment in Spain, which has been shaken by a recent profound economic and political crisis.
The two main parties, Spain's ruling conservative People's Party and the opposition Socialists, are facing two newcomers to the Spanish political landscape: the left-wing Podemos, which has links to Greece's anti-austerity party Syriza and hopes to emulate the latter's successful rise to power, and the centrist Cuidadanos.
Both of the new parties have grown out of widespread dissatisfaction with the inability of Spain's political establishment to come to grips with rising poverty, inequality and unemployment, which has remained high despite economic recovery in other sectors.
Andalusia, Spain's most populous region, has a jobless rate of 34.2 percent, above the national average of around 25 percent.
In another sign of the discontent of many Spaniards, thousands of people marched through wealthy areas of the capital, Madrid, on the eve of the Andalusian elections, protesting against the government's austerity measures in a "March for Dignity."
Pre-elections surveys have shown that the Socialists and the People's Party are still likely to retain most seats in Andalusia's 109-seat parliament.
However, the Socialists, who have ruled Andalusia without interruption since 1982, might require support from one of the new parties to form a coalition.
Polls have suggested that Podemos should come third, while Ciudadanos could finish in fourth place.
With a general election expected before the end of the year, regional and local elections in May and a vote in the secessionist-inclined Catalonia, Spain will be a much-watched indicator of the ability of mainstream parties to stand their own against a growing number of populist groupings in Europe.
tj/sb (Reuters, AP)