M. Continuo

Spain's ruling PP party consolidates lead, short of majority

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's ruling People's Party (PP) held onto its lead in the last polls before Sunday's general election, but looked set to fall well short of a majority, leaving the door open to potential pacts.

Surveys published on Monday suggested the conservative PP would top the poll, with the main opposition Socialists (PSOE) and two newcomers, liberal Ciudadanos and left-wing Podemos, following closely behind.

No new polls are permitted under Spanish voting rules after the end of today.

The fragmented vote is unusual for Spain, where the PP and the PSOE have traditionally alternated in power. A deep economic crisis marked by soaring unemployment and corruption scandals has broken their dominance, leaving many seeking alternatives.

With the last official survey on Dec. 3 showing as many as one in three voters were undecided or planning to abstain and the four main parties in such close proximity, the final outcome remains highly uncertain.

A minority government could also be on the cards, as Spain´s parliamentary system makes any number of ad hoc alliances possible should the winner fail to gain an outright majority.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez will fight to win over undecided voters on Monday evening in last televised debate before the ballot.

The largest of the four polls published on Monday, by Sigma Dos for the conservative newspaper El Mundo, showed the PP winning with 27.2 percent, followed by the PSOE on 20.3 percent, Ciudadanos with 19.6 percent and Podemos with 18.4 percent.

A poll by Metroscopia for left-leaning El Pais also showed the PP winning, with 25.3 percent, closely followed by the PSOE with 21 percent and Podemos and Ciudadanos only slightly lagging on 19.1 percent and 18.2 percent respectively.

Smaller polls in newspapers La Razon and El Periodico also put PP in the lead with their three opponents close behind.

No poll gave the PP enough votes to form a majority in parliament, raising the prospect of potentially prolonged coalition talks or a minority government that could struggle to rule effectively.

(Reporting by Paul Day; Editing by Catherine Evans)