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, Reuters reported.
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.
"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."