Spain's two main parties, the ruling Popular Party and the Socialist Party, lost major ground in the European Parliament elections on Sunday while smaller parties, mainly on the left, made significant gains.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party, which has pushed through painful spending cuts since coming to power in 2011, elected 16 of Spain's 54 lawmakers, eight less than in the outgoing assembly.
The main opposition Socialists took 14 seats, nine fewer than in the last elections.
Polls had predicted a far more modest decline for Spain's two main parties in the European election.
The big surprise of the night was the strong performance of smaller parties, especially Podemos, a political movement born out of Spain's Internet-fueled "Indignant" movement against economic inequality and government austerity.
The party, whose name means "We Can", captured five seats. A Sigma Dos poll published last week predicted it would get just two seats.
"We can't talk about the end, but we can talk about the beginning of the end of bipartisanship," Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year-old political science professor who is a regular on television political talks shows, told reporters after the results were released.
"Podemos was not born to occupy a symbolic role. We were born to win and our challenge starting tomorrow is to build with others a political alternative to the government in our country."
The "Indignant" movement, which was born with the establishment of a sprawling encampment at Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square in 2011, went on to inspire similar protest from Britain to the United States' Occupy Wall Street.
In other bad news for the government, a long-standing separatist party, the Republican Left, won the biggest share of the vote in Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia.
The party captured captured 23.67 percent of the vote, beating the conservative Convergence and Union party, the biggest formation in Catalonia's local parliament, which came in second.
Both parties want to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9, flying in the face of fierce opposition from the central government in Madrid.
The two formed a political alliance a month after regional elections in Catalonia in November 2012 but Convergence and Union is seen as more moderate and less ready to risk all-out confrontation with Madrid.
The Popular Party said it was satisfied with the result.
Popular Party secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal pointed out that Spain was one of the few nations where the ruling party won the European elections.
The ruling party captured 26 percent of the vote, against 23 percent for the Socialist Party.
"Popular Party wins, bipartisanship loses," said top-selling daily newspaper El Pais on the front page of the print edition that hit stands on Monday.
It is the first time that Spain's two main parties failed to get more than half of the ballots cast in an election since the country returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator General Francisco franco in 1975, the paper wrote.
The Socialist Party's top candidate in the election, Elena Valenciano, said the results were "hard, difficult".
With one in four people out of work in Spain the campaign focused on the economy with the Popular Party highlighting a return to growth last year and the opposition criticising the lack of jobs, cutbacks to social services and other austerity measures.
The Plural Left, a coalition of left-wing parties, won six seats, up from two in the outgoing assembly while the centrist UPyD party won four seats, up from just one.
Turnout was 45.7 percent, up from 44.9 percent in the last European Parliament election in 2009. It had been expected to fall.