In Catalonia, the separatists strengthen their majority in the regional parliament

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Beyond politics, the image that will remain of this ballot will be that of assessors holding the polling stations, protected by full white overalls, in order to vote voters sick with Covid-19 or in quarantine.

Read also: The elections in Catalonia under the sign of Covid

The separatists and their differences

More than three years after an abortive secession attempt, the separatist parties strengthened their majority in the regional parliament on Sunday and seem able to remain in power in Catalonia. They exceeded 50% of the vote for the first time in a regional ballot. At the last in 2017, they totaled 47.5%.

And with 33 seats for the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), 32 for Ensemble pour la Catalogne (JxC) of the former regional president Carles Puigdemont and 9 for the radicals of the CUP, they reinforced their majority with 74 seats against 70.

But they will now have to overcome their differences to seal a government agreement. Arrived in front of JxC, the ERC candidate, Pere Aragones, appears in a strong position to become the next regional president.

The region is currently governed by a coalition between JxC, a party advocating confrontation with Madrid, and ERC, more moderate and supportive of Pedro Sanchez in the Spanish parliament. “We have slowed down an operation led by the (Spanish) state to expel the separatists from the institutions,” said Pere Aragones.

Difficulty for Salvador Illa to lead a coalition

But the vote was won by the candidate of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. Former health minister Salvador Illa came first with around 23% of the vote and 33 seats out of the 135 in the regional parliament. Sent to Barcelona to remove the separatists from the power they have occupied since 2015, he however missed his bet.

“The change is here to stay in Catalonia,” he insisted, announcing that he would be a candidate for the presidency despite his poor chances.

Also read: In Catalonia, independence on the tightrope

But as the separatist parties have pledged in writing not to seal an agreement with him, Salvador Illa has no room for maneuver allowing him to count on the necessary votes in the Catalan parliament to take the presidency of Catalonia.

Covid patients vote

Masks, gloves, protective visors, distances: the anti-Covid measures marked the ballot, the last hour of which was even reserved for Covid patients and people in quarantine. A very controversial decision in a still very tense health context, even if the situation has improved in recent days.

For fear of the virus, voters did not travel much and abstention jumped to more than 46%, more than 25 points more than in 2017.

Sign of unease among voters, about 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 to this effect were accepted, the ballot was able to proceed normally. In order to reduce the risks, polling stations have been installed in open spaces inside the FC Barcelona stadium complex or in an arena in Tarragona.

Puigdemont still in exile

These elections took place a little more than three years after the failure of an attempt at secession marked by the organization, on October 1, 2017, of a self-determination referendum banned by the courts and punctuated by police violence including images had been around the world.

Also read: End of the run for Carles Puigdemont

The head of the Catalan government at the time, Carles Puigdemont, 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.