A little more than three years after an aborted attempt at secession, Catalonia is called to the polls. The region will vote this Sunday for its deputies in the local parliament. The stake is in particular to know if the Socialists, at the head of the Spanish government, will succeed in removing the separatists from power in Barcelona.
The main unknown concerns participation, which should be down sharply due to the health context. Spain is indeed one of the European states hardest hit by Covid-19. Following the explosion of new cases following the end-of-year celebrations, the regional government had also decided to postpone the ballot until the end of May, but the courts intervened to restore the initial date.
Participation expected sharply down
Polling stations will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the last hour will be reserved for people with Covid-19 or in quarantine, a situation that will require assessors to wear full protective suits. Opinion polls predict that turnout could fall below 60%, after it was around 80% in 2017. Sign of unease among the 5.5 million registered voters, around 35,600 people of the 82,000 drawn to serve as assessors asked to be exempted from this obligation. Although 23,300 requests were accepted, the authorities assure that the ballot can proceed normally.
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, Ensemble pour la Catalogne (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.
The Prime Minister gets involved
Determined to break the stranglehold of the separatists, Pedro Sanchez, who became Prime Minister after the 2017 secession attempt, appealed to his former Minister of Health and leading figure in the fight against Covid-19 in Spain, Salvador Illa, to lead the Socialists to battle. He even got personally involved in the campaign by participating in several electoral meetings, with the risk that failure would also be perceived as his.
Even if they win the most votes, the Socialists will need partners to obtain the absolute majority of 68 deputies (out of a total of 135) in the local parliament, and will have to shatter the independence bloc. They rely for this on ERC, a party open to dialogue with Madrid. But it will not be that simple. 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 Salvador Illa.