POLITICS

Local elections could see upstart parties end ruling party's dominance in Spain

Natividad, 97, casts her vote at a polling station in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Voters began casting their ballots across much of Spain early Sunday in local elections that could see two upstart parties end ntarly four decades of dominance by the conservative Popular Party and the center-left Socialists. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Natividad, 97, casts her vote at a polling station in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Voters began casting their ballots across much of Spain early Sunday in local elections that could see two upstart parties end ntarly four decades of dominance by the conservative Popular Party and the center-left Socialists. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Spaniards were voting Sunday in local elections that could see two upstart parties end nearly four decades of dominance by the ruling conservative Popular Party and its rival, the center-left Socialists.

At stake are 8,122 town halls as well as parliament seats in 13 of Spain's 17 regions. More than 35 million voters are registered.

Opinion polls indicate voters are fed up with Spain's economic downturn and the corruption scandals that have rocked both main political parties, which have alternated in power.

That dissatisfaction has opened the door to the centrist, pro-business Citizens party and the left-wing We Can party — which began operating on a national scale only last year.

The two most important electoral battlegrounds will be for control of the capital — Madrid — and for Barcelona, the regional capital of the relatively prosperous but heavily indebted northeastern Catalonia region.

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In Madrid, where protesters angry with austerity measures and corruption camped out in the Puerta del Sol square for weeks in 2011 and helped fuel the worldwide "Occupy" movement, the Popular Party could lose its long-standing majority.

"Voting for We Can was the only option for me," said university student Mikel Redondo, 19, in Madrid. "The political establishment needs to be shaken up and it's the best option to achieve that."

The We Can group was born out of that Madrid protest, which railed against the stinging cutbacks introduced by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party and the widespread mismanagement that led to a bailout for Spain's banking sector after the country's once-thriving real estate sector collapsed.

"There are lots of corruption cases and people realize the usual parties are simply carrying on as usual," said Gerardo Cobos, 31, in Madrid.

In Barcelona, Ada Colau, a popular anti-eviction advocate who is running for mayor with backing from We Can, could upset the region's long-dominant conservative Convergence and Union party.

"We are ending an era," said Colau after casting her vote. "The destiny of our city might now be in our hands," she added.

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