BARCELONA, Spain — The pro-union Socialist Party appeared set to claim a narrow win in regional elections in Catalonia late Sunday, but the bloc of parties supporting secession by Spain’s northeastern corner were widening their control of the regional parliament.
With 95 per cent of the votes counted, the three main parties pledging to carve out an independent Catalan state were likely to increase their number of seats in the regional parliament to 74. In 2017, those same parties won 70 seats of the 135-seat chamber, just two above the majority.
The Socialist party led by former health minister Salvador Illa was poised to take 33 seats with over 625,000 votes. The pro-secession Republican Left of Catalonia was also set to claim 33 seats, but with 580,000 votes.
But despite the huge boost in support for the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who has held talks with the separatists in an attempt to ease tensions with the region, Illa would have a difficult time trying to cobbling together support for a government.
The outcome confirms that pro-separatist sentiment has not waned despite the suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic and a frustrated secession bid in October 2017 that left several of its members in prison.
However, it was not clear if the separatist parties would be able to overcome the in-fighting that has plagued their bloc since the dream of an easy breakaway from Spain proved elusive.
The results shifted the power within the pro-secession camp to the leftist Republican Left of Catalonia party, whose 33 seats edged out the centre-right Together for Catalonia, set to win 32 seats.
The Republican Left of Catalonia of jailed leader Oriol Junqueras can now dispute the leadership of the bloc with Together for Catalonia, the party of former Catalan chief Carles Puidemont, who fled to Belgium following the ineffective 2017 breakaway bid.
Together for Catalonia maintains a more radical stance on severing ties from Spain in the short term, while the Republican Left of Catalonia lowered its tone over the past year and set winning an amnesty from central authorities for Junqueras and other jailed leaders as its top priority — for now.
The region’s parliament also was poised to become more fragmented, and more radical.
The far-right Vox party entered the Catalan legislature for the first time with 11 seats, confirming its surge across Spain in recent years. Its success came at the expense of the conservative Popular Party, which was left with three seats after a campaign in which it softened its formerly hard-line stance against Catalan secessionists.
On the other side of the spectrum, the far-left, pro-secession CUP party improved to nine seats from the four it won in 2017. So once again, the pro-secession forces will need the unpredictable CUP to form a majority.
A potential regional government will likely hinge on deal-making between parties that could take days or longer to conclude.
While the Socialists rose at the expense of the liberal Citizens, which plummeted to six seats after winning the December 2017 elections with 36, the Catalan political panorama remained unchanged in the essential question: The Mediterranean region bordering with France is still roughly split between those who support the creation of a Catalan state, and those who are fervently for remaining a part of Spain.