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Spain leader blames austerity, scandals for election result

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos (We Can) party gives a speech to celebrate the party results after the elections and in support of local candidate for Ahora Madrid (Madrid Now) party in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Ahora Madrid stood for the Madrid municipal elections to seek an end nearly four decades of dominance by the conservative Popular Party and the center-left Socialists.(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s prime minister acknowledged Monday he was disappointed with his party’s showing in local elections, which he attributed largely to austerity measures his government was compelled to take during Europe’s recent debt crisis and a recent string of political scandals.

The elections Sunday in many Spanish cities and regions dealt a serious blow to Mariano Rajoy’s governing Popular Party. Two new parties carved out kingmaker roles by capitalizing on voter disaffection with established parties for their handling of the economy among other reasons.

Though the conservative Popular Party won the most votes overall, capturing 27 percent of votes cast, it lost the absolute control it had in eight of the 13 regions, including in its traditional power bases of Madrid and Valencia. The party lost 2.5 million voters since the last local elections four years ago.

Rajoy, who is also the Popular Party’s leader, said economic recovery and job creation are priorities before Spain’s general election this fall. A nearly eight-year economic crisis has left the country with a 24 percent unemployment rate.

Rajoy also accepted that corruption scandals involving his party had eroded public support.

“We have to get closer to the Spanish people and communicate better with them,” Rajoy told a news conference after a meeting of his party’s national executive committee. He said he had no plans to reshuffle his Cabinet.

The opposition Socialists, who came in second with 25 percent of the vote, saw their total number of supporters drop half a million to 5.6 million in the ballot for seats in more than 8,100 town halls and 13 of 17 regional governments

But the left-wing We Can party and the centrist Citizens party, two organizations that only began operating on a national level last year, finished a strong third and fourth.

We Can leader Pablo Iglesias said Monday the result spelled the end of the two-party system that has dominated Spain for nearly 40 years.

“The message is that 2015 will be the year of change,” he said.

Between them, the Popular Party and the Socialists only garnered 52 percent of the nationwide vote Sunday, down from 65 percent in the 2011 election, but they did manage to avert the political meltdown some had predicted.

The conservatives appear to be losing their 20-year grip on Madrid’s prestigious town hall, where a left-wing coalition of new parties, including We Can, is best positioned to install their candidate for mayor.

Barcelona, the country’s second-largest city, saw a huge symbolic upset as Ada Colau, a popular anti-eviction advocate backed by We Can, capitalized on local disaffection to beat the region’s long dominant conservative Convergence and Union party in the race for mayor.

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Associated Press writer Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.

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