Separatists are growing majority in Catalonia despite socialist victory

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – The pro-union Socialist Party claimed a narrow victory in Catalonia’s regional elections late on Sunday, but the bloc of parties supporting secession from Spain’s northeastern corner expanded their control of the regional parliament.

With 99% of the votes counted, the three main parties that promised to carve out an independent Catalan state increased their number of seats in the regional parliament to 74. In 2017, the same parties won 70 seats in the 135-seat chamber, only two over the majority .

The Socialist Party led by former Health Minister Salvador Illa was ready to take 33 seats with over 625,000 votes. The pro-separatist Republican left in Catalonia was also to demand 33 seats, but with 580,000 votes.

But despite the huge boost in support for the Socialist Party by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who has held talks with the separatists in an attempt to ease tensions with the region, Illa will have a hard time trying to rally support for a government. He would need the support of several parties, including some separatists.

“This is a clear victory that has one reading: it’s time to turn the page, write a new chapter, reach out to each other and move on together,” Illa said after her victory.

The result confirms that the pro-separatist sentiment has not abated despite the collective suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic and a frustrated secession bid in October 2017 that left several of its members in jail.

However, it was not clear whether the separatist parties would be able to overcome the struggle that has plagued their bloc since the dream of an easy outbreak from Spain proved elusive.

The results shifted power before the pro-secession camp of the left-wing Republican Party to the left of Catalonia, whose 33 seats edged center-right together for Catalonia, set to win 32 seats.

Imprisoned Republican left-wing leader Oriol Junqueras of Catalonia can now contest the leadership of the bloc with Together for Catalonia, the party of former Catalan leader Carles Puidemont, who fled to Belgium following the ineffective release bid in 2017.

Together for Catalonia maintains a more radical stance to sever ties with Spain in the short term, while the Republican left in Catalonia lowered the tone last year and set to win an amnesty from the central authorities for Junqueras and other imprisoned leaders as its top priority. – for now.

Adrià Hoguet, a 29-year-old banker, switched his voice from Together for Catalonia to the Republican left in Catalonia.

“Although it wants an independent Catalonia, the party knows that it will not be easy and can not be achieved by just plowing ahead because we have seen that it will not work,” Hoguet said after casting his ballot in Barcelona.

The region’s parliament was also ready to become more fragmented and more radical.

The far-right Vox party entered the Catalan legislature for the first time with 11 seats, confirming its rise in Spain in recent years. Its success came at the expense of the conservative popular party, which was left with three seats after a campaign in which it softened its previously tough stance against Catalan secessionists.

At the other end of the spectrum, the left-leaning, pro-secession CUP party improved to nine seats from the four they won in 2017. Then again, the pro-secession forces will need the unpredictable CUP to form a majority.

A potential regional government is likely to depend on agreement between parties that may take days or longer to conclude.

The use of face masks and hand sanitizer was mandatory at polling stations as Spain struggles with yet another increase in infections for a country that has lost over 64,000 human lives to COVID-19.

For 29-year-old social worker Andrea Marín, the pandemic increased her desire for continued association.

“I voted for the Socialists because I do not want my vote to go as separatists,” she said. “They are already spending a lot of money promoting the separatist cause when what matters today is the economy and ending the pandemic.”

Virus fears, bad weather and the absence of a concrete proposal from separatists to provoke a rift again in the near future seemed to dampen voter turnout, which fell to 55% compared to a record turnout of 79% in December 2017. It seemed to favor pro-separation parties , which is better off in rural areas that are over-represented in the electoral law.

So while the Socialists rose at the expense of the liberal citizens who crashed to six seats after winning the December 2017 election by 36, the Catalan political panorama remained unchanged in the essential question: the Mediterranean region bordering France is still roughly divided between those who support the creation of a Catalan state and those who are keen to remain part of Spain.

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Associated Press journalist Renata Brito contributed to this report.

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