San Francisco Chronicle

Cata­lan sep­a­ratists poised to win re­gional elec­tions

- By Raphael Min­der Raphael Min­der is a New York Times writer.

BARCELONA, Spain — Cat­alo­nia’s sep­a­ratist par­ties were poised to hold on to a nar­row ma­jor­ity in re­gional elec­tions on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to nearly com­plete of­fi­cial re­sults, a seem­ing vin­di­ca­tion of their in­de­pen­dence drive, which has di­vided the re­gion and threat­ened to frac­ture Spain.

If con­firmed, the out­come would be a sig­nif­i­cant set­back for Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, who in­voked emer­gency pow­ers, ousted the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment and took di­rect ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol of the for­merly au­ton­o­mous re­gion af­ter its sep­a­ratist law­mak­ers de­clared in­de­pen­dence in Oc­to­ber.

Ra­joy called the elec­tions hop­ing to reshuf­fle the po­lit­i­cal deck, cal­cu­lat­ing that Cata­lan vot­ers would pun­ish the se­ces­sion­ist lead­ers who had pro­voked the coun­try’s worst con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in decades.

That gam­ble ap­peared not to have paid off. The three main sep­a­ratist par­ties won 70 of the 135 seats in the Cata­lan par­lia­ment, with 85 per­cent of the votes counted. Af­ter months of feud­ing, Ra­joy, Cat­alo­nia and in­deed all of Spain now end up close to where the cri­sis started.

Worse for Ra­joy, he is now po­lit­i­cally wounded, hav­ing lost his bet that a suf­fi­ciently large ma­jor­ity of Cata­lans would rally be­hind his call for Span­ish unity to snuff out the se­ces­sion­ist chal­lenge.

In­stead, it was Ra­joy’s Pop­u­lar Party that was pun­ished, with most union­ist votes go­ing to Ci­u­dadanos, a ri­val party on which Ra­joy al­ready de­pends to keep his mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment alive in Madrid.

The re­gion, which in­cludes Barcelona, the hub of Spain’s thriv­ing tourism sec­tor, has har­bored de­sires for in­de­pen­dence based on its dis­tinct lan­guage and cul­ture for gen­er­a­tions, even if they have ebbed and flowed.

The cur­rent stand­off is a high-wa­ter mark. It has un­set­tled not only Spain but also its neigh­bors in the Euro­pean Union, many of whom are fear­ful of sep­a­ratist chal­lenges of their own at a time of ris­ing pop­ulism and na­tion­al­ism. Al­most no politi­cian out­side of Cat­alo­nia has sup­ported the drive for in­de­pen­dence.

Per­haps the elec­tion’s big­gest sur­prise was the strong show­ing by the re­cently over­hauled party of Car­les Puigde­mont, the ousted leader of Cat­alo­nia, which was on course to win 33 seats in the next re­gional par­lia­ment, one more seat than Es­querra Repub­li­cana, the other main sep­a­ratist party.

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