The Latest: Spanish voters queue to cast their ballots

MADRID (AP) — The Latest on the Spanish national election (all times local):

12:25 p.m.

Alicia Sánchez, 38, and her mother cast their ballots in Spain’s general election at the Palacio Valdes public school in central Madrid “in order to stop the racist extreme right” from making a significant power grab.

“I’ve always come to vote, but this time it feels special. I’m worried about how they can influence policies on women and other issues. They are clearly homophobic. Reading their program is like something from 50 years ago. I’m scared,” Sánchez said Sunday.

Minutes later, Amelia Gómez and Antonio Román, she 86 and he 90, emerged from the crowd flocking to the polling station.

Having voted in all elections since Spain returned to democratic rule four decades ago, following the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, the couple they didn’t have much trust in politicians.

“All I want is for whoever wins to take care of the old people,” Gómez said, complaining that the two of them together receive less than 1,000 euros (1,100 euros) a month in state pensions.

“They need to watch for the poor, that’s their job,” Román added.

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10:30 a.m.

The five top candidates to become Spain’s next prime minister are casting their ballots and encouraging people to take advantage of the sunny spring day to come out and ensure a high turnout in Sunday’s general election.

All are voting in the Spanish capital except for the center-right Citizens party leader, Albert Rivera, who cast his ballot in a town near Barcelona.

Rivera, who has focused his campaign on unseating the incumbent Socialist prime minister, told reporters that a high turnout is needed for a government change and to “usher in a new era.”

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the left-wing United We Can party, also stressed the importance of voting on Sunday.

“My feeling is that in Spain there is an ample progressive majority, and when there is high participation that becomes very clear,” Iglesias told reporters at a public school in the residential suburb near Madrid where he lives.

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9:45 a.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says he wants Sunday’s highly contested general election to yield a parliamentary majority that can undertake social and political reforms in the country.

Surrounded by cameras and accompanied by his wife, the 47-year old incumbent Socialist leader cast his ballot early on Sunday at a cultural center in an affluent suburban neighborhood of the Spanish capital.

He was the first of the five top candidates to vote in the general election marked by the rise of a far-right party and the high number of undecided voters.

All polls forecast that Sánchez’s Socialists will overtake the conservative Popular Party to garner the most votes, but Sánchez will be nowhere near a majority in the parliament’s Lower House.

Up for grabs are the 350 members of the Congress of Deputies, who then choose a government, and also 208 senators for the Upper House.

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9:05 a.m.

A divided Spain is voting in its third general election in four years, with all eyes on whether the rise of conservative nationalism will allow the right wing to unseat the incumbent prime minister.

Pedro Sánchez is set to win the most votes, but his Socialists seem far from scoring a majority in parliament to form a government on their own.

The fragmentation of the political landscape is the result of austerity that followed the economic recession, disenchantment with bipartisan politics and the recent rise of far-right populism.

Sánchez called Sunday’s ballot after a national budget proposal was rejected in the Lower Chamber by the center-right-conservative opposition and Catalan separatists pressing for self-determination in their northeastern region.

Voting stations opened at 9 a.m. (0700GMT) Sunday and will close at 8 p.m. (1800GMT), with results expected a few hours later.

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