Spain's Socialists set to win most votes in election - but short of majority
Spanish voters have turned out in force for a general election in which Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists look poised to win the most votes but seem far from scoring a majority.
A far-right party could also become a significant player in parliament for the first time since democracy was restored four decades ago.
Mr Sanchez called the vote after his budget was defeated by the right-wing opposition and Catalan separatists.
Spain's political landscape has fragmented from having two main parties for decades into five now, a result of austerity programmes that followed a recession, disenchantment with bipartisan politics and the rise of far-right populism.
Polls a week ago showed that about one-third of Spain's nearly 37 million voters had not decided yet who to choose to fill 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 208 in the Upper House.
An opinion poll published on Sunday night by Spanish public broadcaster RTVE as voting ended on the mainland showed that Mr Sanchez could hold on to power but only with support of the left-wing United We Can party and small regional parties, including separatists in Catalonia.
Pollster GAD3 interviewed 12,900 people by phone on April 12-27. It said the error margin was 0.95%.
On the splintered right, three parties are competing for leadership: the once-dominant conservative Popular Party, the centre-right Citizens, and the nationalist, anti-migrant Vox party, which looks set to enter the lower house of the Parliament for the first time.
The arrival of Vox in Madrid's national parliament would mark a big shift in Spain, where the far right has not played a significant role since the country's transition to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975.
Pablo Casado, who has steered the Popular Party further to the right to stop it from losing votes to Vox, called the ballot the country's "most decisive" in years.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal, who drew the largest crowds during campaigning, told reporters in Madrid that "millions of Spaniards are going to vote with hope, they are going to do it without fear for anything or anybody".
Two hours before the polls closed, turnout was more than 9% higher than in the previous election in 2016, Spain's Interior Ministry said.
That increase included a huge boost of more than 17% in the north-eastern Catalonia region, which has been embroiled in a political quagmire since its failed secession bid in 2017 put several separatist leaders in jail while they undergo trial.