December 21, 2017
Catalan Election: Catalans go to the polls amid independence crisis
Catalans cast their votes on Thursday in key elections that could determine the next chapter of the independence crisis, amid heavy security and searing tensions over the secessionist project.
Some 17,000 Catalan and national police were deployed for the election, in which more than 80 per cent of the region's 5.5 million voters are expected to cast ballots. Queues snaked around many polling stations early this morning ahead of the start of voting at 9am local time.
The vote is being monitored by an extraordinary contingent of 55,000 observers, as both sides try to ward against the possibility of fraud or voter intimidation that could swing the knife-edge race.
There were fears that such a heavy presence could lead to confrontations, with pro-independence parties planning their own recount and authorities banning observers from displaying political symbols - including the yellow ribbons worn to express support for Catalonia’s jailed politicians.
Supporters and opponents of independence both hope to defy the polls and secure a decisive win that will reestablish a Catalan government after two months of direct rule from Madrid.

Catalan Election: Catalans go to the polls amid independence crisis

But there are fears the vote could instead unleash months of further chaos and ultimately lead to repeat elections. Polls have consistently pointed to a hung parliament, with neither the secessionist or unionist blocs reaching the 68 seats they need for an absolute majority.

'Climate of democratic normality'
At the Infant Jesus school in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona on Thursday, Artur Mas, Carles Puigdemont’s predecessor who began the independence drive, hailed the atmosphere of calm surrounding this morning’s voting.
He told reporters at the school, the scene of a major standoff with police during the banned October 1 referendum: “Always when the people want to vote it should be done without repression, in a peaceful way.”
Catalonia deserved “a climate of democratic normality,” he said, adding that participation so far appeared high.
At the Can Maiol school, a polling station in the neighborhood of Sants, Carlos Gonzalez said he was voting for the Left-wing pro-union party, the PSC, as he wanted to stop the independence drive.
“Right now it’s a disaster, so many businesses leaving, if we continue like this we will be ruined,” the 64-year-old painter told the Telegraph.

Susana, 45, who did not wish to give her last name, said she was pro-independence and wanted to vote against the imposition of Article 155 by a Spanish government that was “acting abusively, without listening”. However she expressed the frustration of many Catalans with the political options on offer, saying that she was against the unilateral route and wanted leaders that could procure a negotiated referendum.
However, as a Leftist she said she had eventually opted “with sadness” for the anti-capitalist CUP, despite their hardline stance on secession.
She said she did not believe the vote would produce a clear result, and would likely lead to complicated negotiations and repeat elections.

Hung parliament
Final surveys released at the end of last week suggested the secessionist bloc - made up of the Esquerra Republicana (ERC) of jailed former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, Junts Per Catalunya of the deposed president Carles Puigdemont and the hard Left CUP - would win between 63 and 66 seats. Meanwhile the unionist bloc - Ciudadanos, led in Catalonia by Ines Arrimadas, the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC) and the national ruling Popular Party (PP) - are forecast to take between 57 and 61 seats.
Vying for the role of kingmaker is En Comu-Podem, a Left-wing alliance formed of Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s Catalunya en Comu, and the local wing of Podemos, led nationally by Pablo Iglesias. They are predicted to win 10 or 11 seats, and hope to wield that power to form a new, cross-bloc governing coalition that can offer an alternative path out of the impasse.
Procuring any coalition with the ability to govern will be a complicated task. On Tuesday, Ms Colau once again ruled out giving En Comu-Podem’s support to Ciudadanos, the PP or Junts Per Catalunya, eyeing instead a Leftist alliance with the ERC, CUP and PSC.
But the ERC insists it wants to maintain the pro-independence coalition which oversaw the October 1 referendum and forge ahead with the Catalan Republic.
Any agreement between secessionists and En Comu-Podem seemed distant on Wednesday after Antoni Castellà, an ERC candidate, compared Catalans who supported “the third way” to Jews who voted for Nazis in 1930s Germany. The statement on Twitter drew a furious response from En Comu-Podem - its candidates demanding an apology and accusing Mr Castellà of “turning the country into a pressure cooker”.
Even a clear victory by pro-independence forces would be mired in uncertainty. Mr Puigdemont remains in exile and Mr Junqueras in prison, while all members of the former government are facing charges.
Catalan Election: Catalans go to the polls amid independence crisis
In an interview from Belgium yesterday, Mr Puigdemont said he would return to Catalonia to take up office in the event of a secessionist win provided that the Spanish government respect the results.
“If I am a candidate to come back to be ratified president by the Catalan Parliament, and the Parliament wants (it), this must prevail - in a democracy - above handcuffs or bars,” he told Publico.
The government of Mariano Rajoy has said it will accept a pro-independence government as long as it remains within the law. But any unilateral moves towards secession would draw a forceful response. As he appeared in Barcelona on Tuesday night in a final push for a unionist win, he insisted: "On Thursday democracy will win and we will maintain the will for dialogue, but we will not accept any imposition."
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