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Catalan separatists strengthen majority in regional parliament

Catalonia’s separatist parties bolstered their majority in the region’s parliament in Sunday’s elections, although anti-independence Socialists won more votes than any other party.

With 99% of the votes counted, the election resulted in a virtual treble between the Socialists and two separatist parties, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Ensemble pour la Catalogne.

When the votes for other separatist parties were included, the independence camp appears to have won just over 50% of the vote, with a low turnout, and to have secured an increased majority in parliament.

“The time has come to negotiate a referendum on independence,” said Father Aragonès, ERC candidate, who equaled the Socialist total of 33 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament despite a slight delay in terms of votes . “For the first time, the independence movement won more than 50% of the vote.”

Spain’s socialist-led minority government, which relied on the ERC to win votes in the national parliament, ruled out such a referendum, and Spain’s constitution declares the country “indivisible.”

The election was also a victory for the far-right Vox party, which finished fourth in the vote, and the radical separatist CUP party, which more than doubled its representation.

But it was a disaster for the center-right People’s Party, Spain’s main opposition group, which recorded its worst electoral result, with less than 4% of the vote. The centrist Ciudadanos group, which led the poll in the last elections in 2017, also saw its representation drop from 36 MPs to six.

“The change has happened in Catalonia to stay,” said Salvador Illa, who was selected as a socialist candidate after serving as Minister of Health during the pandemic and whose campaign appeared to build support for his party.

Illa praised the “very clear victory” of the Socialists, in which the party won 23 percent of the vote and almost doubled the number of its seats in the regional parliament.

Although Illa has said he will run as a candidate for the head of the regional government, the separatist parties, which will have an absolute majority of 74 seats between them, have signed a pact ruling out any deal to form a government with the socialists.

Aragonès, who last week told the Financial Times in an interview that he sought after the example of the Scottish independence movement, will also seek the support of the regional parliament to form an administration. He seems to have the votes to do so, despite the tensions within the independence camp during the last legislature.

The rise of the separatist movement over the past decade has transformed Spanish politics, leading to a confrontation with Madrid, most notably in October 2017, when regional authorities held an unconstitutional independence referendum. The Catalan parliament then issued a unilateral declaration of independence – events that led to prison sentences for the separatist leaders.

Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan leader at the time, fled to Belgium rather than be tried. On Sunday, his Together for Catalonia party, which takes a more confrontational approach to Madrid than the ERC, came third, with 32 seats and 20% of the vote. The region’s electoral system grants proportionately higher representation to rural separatist strongholds than to urban socialist strongholds.

The elections were held under less busy circumstances than the December 2017 vote, with the turnout falling from 79% to 53.5%. Due to the pandemic, voting was organized by teams, with people deemed at risk voting first, followed by the general population, and then people who tested positive last.

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