Elections in Catalonia begin under the sign of Covid

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In the midst of the epidemic, voters in Catalonia began to vote this Sunday for a ballot whose stake is whether the Socialists, at the head of the Spanish government, will manage to remove the separatists from regional power, more than three years after a attempted secession aborted. Beyond the results, the main unknown of this election relates to participation, which should be down sharply due to the health context.

Patients can also vote

The last hour of the vote, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., will be reserved for people with Covid-19 or in quarantine, an exceptional situation which will require assessors holding offices to wear full protective suits.

Also read: In Catalonia, independence on the tightrope

Opinion polls predict that turnout could fall below 60%, after it had been around 80% in the previous elections in 2017. Sign of unease among some 5.5 million voters registered, around 35,600 people out of the 82,000 drawn to serve as assessors have asked to be exempted from this obligation. Although 23,300 requests were accepted, the authorities assure that the ballot can proceed normally.

Three-way battle

This predictable drop in turnout increases the uncertainty of the ballot, with polls showing three parties in a pocket handkerchief with just over 20% of the vote: the two main Catalan independence parties – Together for Catalonia (JxC) and Gauche Républicaine of Catalonia (ERC) – which form the current regional government, and the PSC, the Catalan branch of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

These elections take place a little more than three years after the failure of an attempt at secession marked by the holding, on October 1, 2017, of a self-determination referendum banned by the courts and which had given rise to very violent police. Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan government at the time, is still in exile in Belgium and nine pro-independence leaders were sentenced in 2019 to terms ranging from nine to 13 years in prison.

Read also: Battle of languages ​​in Catalonia

Determined to break the hold of the separatists on power in Barcelona, ​​Mr. Sanchez, who became Prime Minister after this crisis of 2017, appealed to his former Minister of Health and figurehead in the fight against Covid- 19 in Spain, Salvador Illa, to lead the Socialists to battle.

Against an Illa government

Even if they win the greatest number of votes, the Socialists will need partners to obtain the absolute majority of 68 deputies in the local parliament, and will have to shatter the independence bloc for this. They are counting on ERC, a party open to dialogue with Madrid and whose support has even enabled the minority government of Mr. Sanchez to have its program voted in Parliament.

But ERC, JxC and three other small formations pledged in writing this week not to contribute “in any way” to the formation of a government with Mr. Illa.

A victory for the Socialists on Sunday could therefore prove to be irrelevant, the most likely hypothesis for analysts being the maintenance in power of the current coalition between JxC, a supporter of a hard line vis-à-vis Madrid, and ERC.