March 8, 2015 / 1:05 PM / 4 years ago

Spanish newcomer Ciudadanos jumps in polls

MADRID (Reuters) - Support for Spanish political newcomer Ciudadanos (Citizens) has surged in the last two months to put it neck-and-neck with the leftist Podemos, the conservative leaders and the socialist opposition, according to a poll published by El Pais on Sunday.

Ciudadanos party leader Albert Rivera gestures as he takes questions during a news conference in Madrid March 2, 2015. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Spain, like many of its euro zone neighbors, has seen austerity-weary voters turn away from traditional political parties in search of an alternative after a more than six-year economic slump and a slew of corruption scandals.

The survey shows the country heading for a potential four-way split vote in the national election expected at the end of the year.

Ciudadanos, led by 35-year-old lawyer Albert Riviera and, until recently, focused solely on the region of Catalonia, would take 18.4 percent of the national vote, the poll showed, compared to 18.6 percent for the ruling People’s Party (PP).

The surge in support from 8.1 percent in January and 12.2 percent in February places the party, which has drawn disenchanted voters from both the left and right, as potential king-makers in the rising possibility of a hung parliament following the election.

Although Podemos (‘We Can”) is still seen winning the next election, support dropped sharply from a month earlier, with 22.5 percent saying they would vote for the party, down from 27.7 percent in February. Some 20.2 percent said they would vote for Spain’s traditional left, the Socialists.

In an interview with Reuters, Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, said any coalition between Spain’s centre-right and centre-left would only prolong what he called the country’s economic disaster.

The PP’s absolute majority in Parliament has helped it pass unpopular economic reforms in the midst of a prolonged recession, though the poll suggests pacts will have to be struck to form a stable government after the next vote.

Ciudadanos’ more moderate, consolatory tone with parties which Podemos dismisses as “the caste”, could help lay the way for a broader coalition.

It could also ease concerns that Spain was heading in the same direction as Greece in electing a leftist anti-establishment party that pledges to restructure the country’s debt and tax the wealthy.

However, pollsters have warned of the difficulty of estimating Parliamentary seats so early in the year given neither Podemos nor Ciudadanos existed at the last election at the end of 2011.

Reporting by Paul Day; editing by Clelia Oziel

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