BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – The union-friendly Socialist Party scored a narrow victory in Catalonia’s regional elections late Sunday, but the bloc of parties backing secession in the northeastern corner of Spain expanded their control over the regional parliament.
With 99% of the votes counted, the three main parties, which had committed to spinning off 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, just two more than 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-secessional Republican Left of Catalonia should also claim 33 seats, but with 580,000 votes.
Despite the tremendous support for the Socialist Party from Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who has held talks with the separatists to ease tension in the region, Illa will find it difficult to cobble together support for a government. He would need the support of several parties, including some separatists.
“This is a clear victory that has a reading: it’s time to turn the page, write a new chapter, reach out to each other and move forward together,” said Illa after his victory.
The result confirms that, despite the collective suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic and a frustrated offer of secession in October 2017 that left several of its members in prison, the pro-separatist sentiment has not subsided. Four years later, the affluent region, in which Spanish also speaks its own language, remains divided in the middle by the secession issue.
However, it was not clear whether the separatist parties would be able to overcome the struggles that have plagued their bloc since the dream of an easy breakout from Spain was elusive.
The results shifted power within the pro-secession camp to the left Republican Party of the Left of Catalonia, whose 33 seats ousted the center-right for Catalonia and were supposed to win 32 seats.
The republican left of Catalonia, headed by imprisoned leader Oriol Junqueras, can now dispute the leadership of the bloc with Together for Catalonia, the party of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the ineffective runaway offer of 2017.
Common for Catalonia remains a more radical stance on the short-term severance of ties with Spain, while the Republican Left of Catalonia last year lowered its tone and made an amnesty from central authorities for Junqueras and other imprisoned leaders a top priority. for now.
“We are ready to reach a broad consensus based on the right to national self-determination, amnesty and the establishment of a republic,” Junqueras said at his party’s headquarters after he and other imprisoned leaders were released from prison join their parties for election night.
Adrià Hoguet, a 29-year-old bank clerk, switched his voice from Together for Catalonia to the Republican Left of Catalonia.
“Although they want Catalonia to be independent, the party knows it won’t be easy and cannot be achieved by simple plowing because we’ve seen that don’t work,” Hoguet said after casting his vote in Barcelona.
The region’s parliament was also ready to become more fragmented and radical.
The right-wing extremist Vox party entered the Catalan legislature for the first time with eleven seats, confirming its boom across Spain in recent years. Its success came at the expense of the conservative People’s Party, which had three seats after a campaign in which it weakened its formerly tough stance against Catalan secessionists.
On the other side of the spectrum, the CUP party on the far left improved from the four seats it won in 2017 to nine seats. So the pro-secession forces will again need the unpredictable CUP to form a majority.
A potential regional government is likely to depend on agreements between parties that could take days or longer to reach.
The use of face masks and hand sanitizer has been mandatory at polling stations as Spain battles another surge in infections for a country that has lost over 64,000 lives to COVID-19.
For 29-year-old social worker Andrea Marín, the pandemic reinforced her desire for a continued union.
“I voted for the socialists because I don’t want my vote to go to the separatists,” she said. “You are already spending a lot of money promoting the separatist cause when it comes to the economy and ending the pandemic today.”
Virus fears, bad weather, and the lack of a specific proposal from separatists to provoke a rupture again in the near future seemed to dampen the turnout, which fell to 55%, compared to a record turnout of 79% in December 2017. This seemed to favor Pros – Secession parties that do better in rural areas that are over-represented in the electoral system.
While the socialists rose at the expense of the liberal citizens, who fell from 36 to six seats after winning the December 2017 elections, the Catalan political panorama remained unchanged on one key issue: the Mediterranean basin bordering France is still roughly between them split those who support the creation of a Catalan state and those who are passionate about staying part of Spain.
Associate press journalists Aritz Parra and Renata Brito contributed to this report.