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Spain's ruling conservatives win election, short of majority

MADRID - Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won Spain's general election on Sunday, exit polls showed, but his center-right party fell short of an absolute majority and will need allies if it is to govern for another four-year term.

MADRID - Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won Spain's general election on Sunday, exit polls showed, but his center-right party fell short of an absolute majority and will need allies if it is to govern for another four-year term.

If confirmed, such results would give way to coalition-building talks that could take many weeks with no easy pact apparently in reach. The Spanish constitution does not set a specific deadline to form a government after the election.

Despite garnering the most votes, Rajoy's People's Party (PP) got its worst result ever in a general election, polls showed, as Spaniards hurt by a grinding recession and yet to feel an economic recovery turned away in droves from the party.

Newcomers anti-austerity Podemos and liberal Ciudadanos made big gains, coming third and fourth respectively, ending a decades-long two-party political system and ushering in a new and potentially volatile era of compromise politics.

That points to a stalemate, probably disrupting an economic reform program that has helped pull Spain - the fifth-largest economy in the European Union - out of recession and dented a still sky-high unemployment rate.

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"This result confirms Spain has entered an era of political fragmentation," said Teneo Intelligence analysts Antonio Barroso. "It's clear that parties will have to negotiate and forming a government could be pretty complicated."

The results suggest at least three parties would have to join to form a coalition government on either side of the political spectrum and none of the main combinations predicted before the vote would reach an absolute majority.

A pact between the PP and Ciudadanos would get 174 seats under a best case scenario, just below the 176 mark of the absolute majority.

An alliance between the Socialists, Podemos and the former communists of Izquierda Unida would get 169 seats at best, although they could potentially attract a further 15 seats from smaller leftist regional groups.

A minority PP government would be technically possible but unlikely due to the strong left-wing vote, as would be a grand coalition between the PP and the Socialists, which both parties vehemently ruled out during campaigning.

At the PP headquarters in central Madrid, a party spokesman said it was clear the party had won the most votes but that the night was not over. A few dozen supporters gathered, waiting for Rajoy's appearance.

"I don't understand, it's very unfair," said Marta de Alfonso Molero, a 48-year-old chemist who has voted PP all her life, speaking of the poor showing for the party. "They have dragged Spain up these last four years."

Hundreds of supporters for leftist newcomer Podemos gathered at a theater in Madrid cheered at the exit polls, which showed the barely two-year-old party coming third in number of seats and actually beating the traditional left-wing faction PSOE in percentage of vote.

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A mostly young crowd, some wearing fancy dress, chanted "Yes we can" as results from the regions came in.

"It makes me happy because Podemos means a change for people and society," said Santiago Gel, a 31-year-old doctor.

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