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Catalans are voting in a decisive election today that could mark a turning point

The region takes to the polls to decide between pro-independence parties and those wanting to remain part of Spain.

Catalan independence will be a key issue in the election
Catalan independence will be a key issue in the election
Image: Matthias Oesterle

CATALANS TAKE THEIR independence struggle to the polls today in a hotly-contested election that could mark a turning point for their region just two months after a secession bid ended in failure.

The vote pits leaders of the wealthy northeastern region’s separatist movement against parties that want to remain in Spain, and opinion polls suggest both sides’ leading candidates are neck-and-neck.

Will voters again hand victory to pro-independence parties that tried to break Catalonia from Spain, one of whose candidates is in jail and the other in self-imposed exile in Belgium?

Or will they lose the absolute parliamentary majority of 72 seats they won in 2015 in what would be a stunning upset for the region’s secessionist drive?

At stake is the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,000 companies move their legal headquarters since Catalan leaders held a banned independence referendum on 1 October.

While Catalonia has long been divided over independence, it was the referendum – and a heavy police crackdown on voters – that focused the world’s attention on the region.

After weeks of uncertainty as separatist leaders and Madrid played for time, the crisis came to a head on 27 October when the regional parliament declared unilateral independence.

That was short-lived, though, as Madrid took the unprecedented step of stripping the region of its autonomy, sacking its government, dissolving its parliament and calling snap elections.

UPI 20171207 The independence vote saw Spain strip Catalonia of its autonomy. Source: UPI/PA Images

 A date with history 

Axed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium, avoiding detention on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his role in the independence drive.

He has since campaigned virtually, holding rallies via videolink.

His deputy Oriol Junqueras remained in Spain and was jailed along with others pending an investigation into the same charges.

Allowed just 10 phone calls a week, he has sent out messages and even poems to supporters from behind bars.

Opinion polls suggest his leftist ERC party could win, and independence supporters in general are rallying to the cause, some of them wearing yellow, the colour of those protesting against the detention of separatists.

“If a leader is removed, another takes their place,” said Marc Botey, a 47-year-old musician who will vote for ERC, stressing the independence drive would go on regardless who their leader was.

Over on the other side, the centrist, anti-independence Ciudadanos party is close to ERC according to polls and some suggest it could win under Ines Arrimadas, a charismatic 36-year-old.

“We have a date with history, these elections will be remembered,” she told a cheering crowd in Barcelona to close the campaign on Tuesday.

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Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique, a Catalan, tweeted on Wednesday: “Sleep well, rest up. The future is in our hands.”

No clear winner

Record turnout is expected but whatever the result, voters and analysts predict no single party will win a decisive majority, which will force negotiations to form a government.

Mass Protest in Defense of Deposed Catalan Government A record turnout is expected for the election vote. Source: Matthias Oesterle

Both camps consist of three parties that may struggle to join forces – Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia list, ERC and the far-left CUP party for independence, and Ciudadanos, the Socialists and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party against it.

In between is the leftist Catalunya en Comu-Podem grouping, which is against independence but supports holding a legal referendum and could play the role of kingmaker.

“Protracted and messy government formation negotiations are likely,” predicted Antonio Barroso, deputy research director for Teneo Intelligence.

Crucially, even if the pro-independence camp maintains its absolute majority, it is not expected to attempt another breakaway from Spain but rather try to enter into negotiations with Madrid.

Read: ‘Catalonia crisis: Spanish judge jails eight ex-members of Catalan government’

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