Spain’s Catalonia holds key election amid fears over COVID | Catalonia Information
The vote could signal the appeal of the Catalan secessionists and the political development of the independence movement.
Elections have opened in Catalonia for an election overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic that Madrid hopes will oust the region’s ruling separatists more than three years after a failed attempt to break away from Spain.
Whether the election is won by the separatist parties now in power in the region or another party like the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, which leads Spain’s central government, the chaotic, short-lived declaration of independence is unlikely to repeat itself in late 2017 .
But it will still be an important signal for the separatists’ appeal and could influence the political development of the independence movement for years to come.
Opinion polls indicate low turnout and voters are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 spreading in polling stations.
In the last election, months after the failed independence offer, an anti-independence-centrist party came first, but the two main rival separatist parties, the center-right Junts per Catalunya (together for Catalonia) and the left Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) has managed to form a government.
Tensions have eased significantly since then and the campaign has mainly focused on tackling the pandemic.
Recent opinion polls have shown that the socialists – who oppose independence but are in favor of dialogue – are ahead of the game, although they would need support from other parties to form the first anti-independence regional government in nine years.
“It is time to reconcile in Catalonia, to build bridges, to hold dialogues and to reach agreements,” said the Spanish health minister Salvador Illa, which was until two weeks ago, to the Reuters news agency.
He has ruled out ruling with the support of far-right Vox, which could win seats in Catalonia for the first time.
If separatists manage to maintain control, a new declaration of independence seems very unlikely, as the movement is split between moderate and confrontational approaches and their top leaders have been imprisoned or fled Spain after the events of 2017.
“We have always said that it is better to arrange a referendum with Spain,” Pere Aragones, Esquerra’s candidate and the current Catalan head of government, told Reuters.
He said a combined 50 percent share of the vote would encourage separatists to push for a referendum from a position of strength, but ruled out any unilateral independence in the short term.
The polling stations opened at 9 a.m. local time (08:00 GMT) and close at 8:00 p.m. local time (19:00 GMT). The results are expected around midnight.