Catalonia’s secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont is on track to regain his leadership of the region, according to preliminary vote counts.
Catalonia’s secessionist parties could capture a majority in the regional parliament, according to early results, with 76 per cent of votes counted so far.
The preliminary count matches an an exit poll that suggested pro-independence parties were on track to win, potentially prolonging Spain’s worst political crisis in decades. The poll was published by La Vanguardia newspaper as voting stations closed, but it is unclear at this point if final results will match the poll.
In the poll, separatist parties were seen getting 67-71 seats in the 135-seat assembly, the Vanguardia poll showed. The unionist bloc would garner 55 to 62 seats, while the local offshoot of anti-austerity party Podemos would get seven to eight seats.
If confirmed, the projection would open a new, uncertain chapter and cast doubts over Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ability to draw a line under a crisis that has damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus away from Catalonia.
The election has become a de facto referendum on how support for the separatist movement has fared since Rajoy sacked Catalonia’s government for holding a banned referendum in October on splitting with Spain and unilaterally declaring independence.
Rajoy had hoped the election would return Catalonia to what he has called “normality” under a unionist government, or with a separatist government that will not seek a unilateral split.
Deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont urged voters to show they back the movement on Thursday. But another secessionist leader, Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, took a more conciliatory tone toward Madrid in a written interview with Reuters on Monday.
The exit poll contradicts final pre-election surveys published last Friday that predicted separatist parties losing control of the regional parliament and them running neck-and-neck with unionists.
Turnout on Thursday reached a record high, with over 83 per cent of eligible Catalans voting.
Polls were peaceful
The atmosphere was one of peace and order as long queues of voters formed, in contrast to the Oct. 1 referendum, which was marked by police firing rubber bullets and wielding truncheons to prevent people voting as the central government cracked down on the illegal ballot.
The independence crisis has damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus away from Catalonia, its wealthiest region, to other parts of the country. Direct foreign investment in Catalonia fell by 75 per cent in the third quarter from a year earlier, according to economy ministry data this week. More than 3,100 companies have moved their legal headquarters out of the region since the beginning of October.
The crisis has also caused concern in other European countries with secessionist regions.