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Catalan pro-independence parties hold absolute majority in election, but rocky road lies ahead

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Political parties in support of independence have declared victory, but the issue of separation among the public remains deeply divided

Anna Freeman

22 Diciembre 2017 12:04

BARCELONA - A mixture of joy and reticence can be felt around Barcelona today, as many are waking up with the news that pro-independence parties have held their absolute majority - again.

This is the fourth time in four years that the people of Catalonia have gone to the polls because of cross-party discrepancies on the issue of independence, and a deep divide among its people. The latest snap poll was called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy after his government decided to impose direct rule over Catalonia because the region's parliament declared a unilateral declaration of independence.

The results of Thursday’s election are, as exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont described them, ‘a slap in the face’ to Rajoy. Madrid was hoping the recent constitutional crisis gripping the country would dissuade voters from choosing secessionist parties, but his gamble hasn’t paid off.

The three separatist parties won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament even though the centre-right, pro-unionist Citizens party was the single biggest winner, taking 37 seats. Between them, the three parties will have enough seats to reassemble the parliamentary majority that put them into office after the 2015 elections if they can agree a new coalition, which will be tough.

However, public support for separatism isn’t as overwhelming as it appears. Independence parties once again failed to attract a majority, taking 47.7% of the vote and losing two seats in comparison with the last election. The unionist Citizens finished as the largest single party in parliament, but its 36 seats were not enough to form a majority government with other parties in favour of Catalonia remaining a part of Spain.

Rajoy’s centre-right People’s party lost nearly three-quarters of its seats, collapsing from 11 to just four. This comes as no surprise given its heavy-handed way of dealing with the continued push for Catalan separatism, and for jailing leaders of the Catalan parliament. A record-high of 80% of voters turned out to make their voices heard.

Since the illegal Catalan referendum on independence on October 1, which was marred by police brutality, it was unclear exactly how many people wanted the region to separate from Spain. And it still appears that there is almost an even split of nearly 50/50 in favour and those against.

Walking around Barcelona today, there is a mix of joy, disillusionment and anxiety about the future. I spoke to a bakery owner called Anna Alemany, born in the city, who expressed her concerns about seeing the same events occur time and time again. ‘How many times can they ask the same question and get the same answer?’ she asked.

Hundreds of Catalan flags are flown proudly on balconies all around the city, but since the illegal referendum, I have noticed a larger presence of Spanish flags as well. There is a visible divide in a city so proud of its culture and heritage. And what is unknown, as it has been for so many months, is what the future holds for Catalonia.

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