Catalonia holds regional elections and measures the power of separatists by Reuters

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© Reuters. The Catalans fear the risk of COVID-19 in Sunday’s elections

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By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalan voters took part in the elections on Sunday to test the strength of the independence movement in the Spanish region at a time now dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether the elections are won by the separatist parties now in power in the region or the socialists who lead Spain’s central government, the chaotic, short-lived Declaration of Independence is unlikely to repeat itself in late 2017.

But it will still be an important signal for the separatists’ appeal and could influence the political development of the independence movement for years to come. Opinion polls suggest low turnout, with voters concerned about the risk of contagion at polling stations.

In the last election, months after the failed independence offer, an anti-independence-centrist party came first, but the two main rival separatist parties, the center-right junt and the left Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, managed to to form a government.

Tensions have eased significantly since then and the campaign has mainly focused on addressing the pandemic.

Recent opinion polls have shown that the socialists – who oppose independence but are in favor of dialogue – are slightly ahead, although they would need support from other parties to form the first anti-independence regional government in nine years.

“It is time to reconcile in Catalonia, to build bridges, to have a dialogue and to reach agreements,” the Spanish health minister Salvador Illa told Reuters until two weeks ago.

He has ruled out ruling with the support of far-right Vox, which could win seats in Catalonia for the first time.

If separatists manage to maintain control, a new declaration of independence seems very unlikely, as the movement is split between moderate and confrontational approaches and their leaders have been imprisoned or fled Spain after the events of 2017.

“We have always said that it is better to arrange a referendum with Spain,” Pere Aragones, Esquerra candidate and current Catalan head of government, told Reuters.

He said reaching a combined 50% share of the vote would allow separatists to push for a referendum from a position of strength, but in the short term precluded any unilateral independence.

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