Spain's opposition conservative People's Party (PP) sailed to victory Sunday in local and regional elections, inflicting heavy losses on Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists, dpa reported.
Zapatero said the election result would not prompt him to call early elections, but that Parliament would be elected as scheduled in early 2012.
In the local elections, the PP took 37.5 per cent of the vote, against nearly 28 per cent for the Socialists, with more than 90 per cent of the vote counted. The Socialists lost the Barcelona city hall to the Catalan nationalist party CiU.
In the regional elections, the Socialists lost strongholds like the central region of Castile-La-Mancha and Extremadura in the west, while the conservatives consolidated their power in the Valencia and Madrid regions.
In the Basque region, a radical separatist coalition became the region's second-largest party.
Zapatero said he "understood" that voters had "punished" the government at polls.
"It has not been easy to explain the nature of (Spain's economic) crisis," said the premier.
Zapatero has come under criticism for his handling of Spain's economic crisis, in which the jobless rate has soared to 20 per cent, highest in the eurozone. Among young Spaniards, unemployment exceeds 40 per cent.
Spain is now recovering from recession, but growth is expected to remain slow for years to come.
PP leader Mariano Rajoy said his party had taken its biggest-ever victory in local and regional elections.
About 35 million people were eligible to elect more than 8,000 municipal councils across the country and regional governments in 13 of Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions.
Elections in the Basque region were marked by the participation for the first time of the separatist coalition Bildu, which the government had tried to ban over alleged links with the armed separatist group ETA.
Bildu took 25 per cent of the Basque vote to become the region's second-largest party.
In Lorca, a city devastated in a May 11 earthquake, voters were allowed to register with outdated identity documents.
For many analysts, the real winner of the elections was a young people's protest movement, which brought tens of thousands of people to the streets across the country demanding reform of Spain's democracy.
The protesters defied the national electoral commission's order to disperse over the week-end, and the government ordered police not to interfere.
Protest gatherings continued on election day, with tens of thousands of people occupying squares in Madrid, Barcelona and at least 15 other cities. The Madrid demonstrators pledged to stay at the central Puerta del Sol square for at least a week after the elections.
The movement criticizing corruption and the power of bankers and capital over politics did not side with any party, nor did it call for voters to boycott the election or cast blank ballots.
Fears that the presence of the movement would encourage abstention turned out unjustified, as the voter turnout of 65 per cent was considerably higher than in 2007.
The movement known as M-15 was launched on May 15 partly in response to the economic crisis.
The economic downturn has had "deep effects on citizens' state of mind," Zapatero said. "I know many Spaniards suffer from serious difficulties and are worried about the future. Today they have expressed their unease."