Spain's ruling PP wins EU vote, political fragmentation rises

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP) won the country’s EU election on Sunday but ceded more seats than expected to smaller parties which tapped into voter disenchantment after a deep economic crisis.

The PP of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which swept to power in Spain in late 2011 with an absolute majority, took 26 percent of the vote, down from nearly 45 in the general election.

With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, backing for the main Socialist opposition was down to 23 percent from about 29 percent in 2011.

The parties lost a combined 17 seats in the European parliament, leaving them with 30 out of Spain’s 54. They had been expected to cede about 10.

Spending cuts by the PP and corruption scandals surrounding the two parties that have dominated Spanish politics for four decades had been expected to push voters elsewhere.

In Spain, it was the left that capitalized in contrast to other European countries were far-right parties scored heavily.

Two-month-old leftist group “Podemos”, or “We Can” in English - which has ridden anti-establishment sentiment by fielding young candidates new to politics - surprised by taking five seats, making it the fourth force in the country after another left-wing party.

Turnout was particularly strong in Catalonia, the northern Spanish region gripped by a rising separatist movement whose leader is pushing for a referendum on independence in November.

A coalition of separatist parties, which included ERC, or the Catalan Republican Left, won the vote there, pulling ahead of Catalan president Artur Mas’ Convergence and Union (CiU) political alliance.

Reporting by Sarah White, editing by Mike Peacock