Spain faces political uncertainty after new movements Podemos and Ciudadanos won nearly a third of the seats in the country’s election.
Anti-austerity Podemos and liberal Ciudadanos made big gains as the conservative Popular Party (PP) lost its majority.
“Spain is not going to be the same anymore and we are very happy,” said Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.
The PP and the Socialists had alternated running the government for more than three decades.
The parties must now embark on negotiations to form a coalition.
The PP had 28.72% of the vote, the Socialists 22.01%, Podemos 20.66% and Ciudadanos 13.93%.
PP leader Mariano Rajoy said he would try form a government, insisting: “This party is still the number one force in Spain.”
However, Mariano Rajoy admitted that his party had taken some “difficult and even unpopular decisions” over the past four years as Spain struggled through an economic crisis.
Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez said his party was ready to start negotiations.
“Spain wants a move to the left,” he said.
Many Spaniards are poorer now than they were at the time of the last election, fuelling the rise of Podemos.
Spain’s unemployment remains high at 21%, the second-highest rate in the EU after Greece, although it has fallen from its 2013 peak of 27%.
The economy, corruption allegations and a separatist drive in the prosperous north-eastern region of Catalonia were all dominant issues in the election.
Podemos claimed it won more votes than any other party in Catalonia and the Basque region and came second in Madrid.
“Many people have lost their confidence in traditional parties,” said deputy leader Inigo Errejon.
“The two-party system has ended.”
Podemos’s rise was also hailed by Greek PM Alexis Tspiras, whose Syriza party is its ally.
“Austerity has been politically defeated in Spain,” said Alexis Tsipras, adding that the result was a sign that “Europe is changing”.
Albert Rivera, leader of the fourth-placed party Ciudadanos, meanwhile said the election marked a new era for young Spaniards like him, who were born after the country’s dictatorship ended in 1975.
“Those of us who didn’t experience the first democratic transition are experiencing a second one,” he said.
Election turnout was 73.2% – up slightly compared to the 2011 election.
In line with Spain’s constitution, after talking to each party, King Felipe VI will nominate a candidate for prime minister. This cannot take place until after the new Congress holds its inaugural meeting on January 13.
The nominee must then win a vote of confidence in parliament. If this fails, another candidate can be nominated and seek parliamentary approval.
If no administration can be formed within two months of the election, another must be held.
Spanish voters are to go to the polls in a landmark election that will see more than two parties compete for power for the first time in decades.
Newcomers Podemos, an anti-austerity party, and Citizens, a liberal party, are challenging the ruling Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists.
Opinion polls have put PM Mariano Rajoy’s PP narrowly ahead.
While he has been in power, Spain has emerged from a financial crisis into a period of economic growth.
The conservative PP currently has a majority in Spain’s lower house of parliament.
Podemos and Citizens are fielding national candidates for the first time.
Both Podemos and Citizens look set to take a take a large chunk of the vote, ending the power monopoly of Spain’s traditional heavyweights.
It is almost certain that no party will get a majority of lawmakers in the parliament meaning some form of coalition will have to be agreed before a government can be formed.
Spanish politics have been dominated by the economy, corruption allegations and a separatist drive in the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia.
Mariano Rajoy’s administration adopted unpopular austerity measures and job reforms that have been credited with returning the Spanish economy to growth.
Pablo Iglesias, 37, university lecturer, leader of new anti-capitalist party Podemos. Sound-bite: “The problem isn’t Greece, the problem is Europe. Germany and the IMF are destroying the political project of Europe.”
Pedro Sanchez, 43, academic, leader of established Socialist party (PSOE). Sound-bite: “The head of the government, Mariano Rajoy, has to be a decent person, and you are not.”
Albert Rivera, 36, lawyer and former competitive swimmer, leader of new Citizens (Ciudadanos) party. Sound-bite: “They [Podemos] blame the system – we blame the people who have corrupted the system.”
Mariano Rajoy, 60, current prime minister and leader of established, conservative Popular Party. Sound-bite: “Who today is talking about bailout Spain? No-one.”
However, unemployment remains high at 21%, the second-highest rate in the EU after Greece, although it has fallen from its 2013 peak of 27%.
The PP has also been damaged by corruption scandals.
The central government in Madrid has also had to contend with an attempt by Catalonia to breal away from the rest of Spain.
Pro-independence parties in Catalonia won an absolute majority in regional elections in September and a month later passed a motion to begin the process of declaring independence.
Spain’s Constitutional Court has revoked that motion, but Catalonia’s leaders said they would ignore it.
Mariano Rajoy has vowed to quash the threat to Spanish unity, but other parties favor negotiations to devolve more power to the region, which accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output.
Ahead of the vote, the party leaders made a point of relaxing as they observed a “day of reflection”.
Mariano Rajoy said he wanted some fresh air and went for a jog around the official prime minister’s residence.
However his campaign was marred last week after a teenager punched him in the face during a visit to the town of Pontevedra in the northwest.
Mariano Rajoy has also raised questions about his future by including his deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, on campaign posters and fielding her in his place during a leaders TV debate.
Meanwhile Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, a 43-year-old former basketball player, watched his daughters play basketball match and Pablo Iglesias booked a ticket for the new Star Wars movie.
Polling stations open at 9AM and close at 8PM. Exit polls are expected minutes afterwards and complete results are due two days later.
Tens of thousands of Spaniards have marched in central Madrid for a rally organized by radical left-wing party Podemos.
The “March for Change” is one of Podemos’ first outdoor mass rallies, as it looks to build on the recent victory of its close allies Syriza in Greece.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias told the crowd a “wind of change” was starting to blow through Europe.
The party has surged ahead in opinion polls, and has vowed to write off part of Spain’s debt if it comes to power.
Several of Madrid’s main avenues became a sea of people and purple, the party’s color, after its supporters travelled from all over Spain.
Marching from Madrid city hall to the central Puerta del Sol square, protesters shouted “Si, Podemos!”, meaning “Yes, we can”.
Broadcaster TVE reported that hundreds of thousands were at the demonstration, but there was no official tally.
“The wind of change is starting to blow in Europe,” Pablo Iglesias said, addressing supporters in Greek and Spanish at the start of the rally.
“We dream but we take our dream seriously. More has been done in Greece in six days than many governments did in years.”
Protesters are parading in the same streets that over the past six years have seen many other gatherings against financial crisis cutbacks imposed by successive governments.
Speaking in Barcelona, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy said Podemos had no chance of winning elections.
“I don’t accept the gloomy Spain which some want to portray because they think that by doing so they will replace those who are governing and have had to face the most difficult crisis in decades. They will not succeed,” he said.
Many Spaniards are enraged over reports of political corruption and public spending cuts implemented by Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party and before that by the Socialists.
The two big traditional parties have described the party – less than a year old and whose names translates as “we can” – as populist.
Since Podemos stormed onto the political scene in last May’s European elections, it has moved from strength to strength with its uncompromising message against austerity and corruption.
Both left-wing and right-wing media have criticized Podemos, accusing it of having ties with Venezuela’s left-wing leaders and alleging financial misconduct by some of its senior members.
The party’s leaders have in response promised to publish their tax returns, with Pablo Iglesias remaining defiant.
“In the face of their hatred, we smile,” is one of his regular pronouncements, according to the AFP news agency. After the Syriza triumph in the Greek elections he said that “hope had been born”.
Spain has now officially come out of recession but nearly one in four workers remains unemployed.