Catalan voters went to the polls this Sunday (14) for the regional election which will serve as a thermometer to measure the strength of the independence movement in the Spanish region, but at a time dominated by the coronavirus crisis, not by separatist sentiment .
At the polling stations there was a constant flow of voters wearing masks and submitting to a series of restrictions to mitigate the risk of contamination: temperature checks on arrival, separate entrances and exits, election officials with coveralls. shields and visors, alcohol gel containers at various points and marks on the ground to guide physical distance.
Whether the election is won by the separatist parties currently in power in Catalonia or by the socialists who run Spain’s central government, the outcome is unlikely to lead to a repeat of the chaotic and ephemeral declaration of independence in late 2017.
That year, a separatist plebiscite obtained 90.09% of the votes in favor of the separation of the territory, a day marked by police violence. The victory of the independence movement was not recognized, however, the plebiscite was declared illegal and, two years later, the separatist leaders were convicted of sedition by the Spanish courts.
This Sunday’s vote will however be an important sign of the attractiveness of Catalan leaders and could affect the political trajectory of the independence movement in the years to come.
Polls before the vote revealed low turnout in the elections. The main reason mentioned was the risk of contagion in the polling stations. People who were diagnosed with Covid-19 or who are suspected were also able to participate in the election, at a set time that has been locally dubbed ‘zombie hour’.
“I have some fear and worry, but it’s a civic duty and that’s why I come to vote, but I don’t think it’s appropriate during the [pandemia de] Covid is calling these elections, ”retired José Antonio Martinez told Reuters news agency in a queue at a Barcelona market.
Almost 300,000 Catalans registered in advance to vote by mail. While only a small fraction of the total 5.5 million potential voters, that number represents a 350% increase over those who requested ballots by mail in the election. from 2017.
“It is clear that this is not the best time to hold an election,” said Sergi López, another voter. “But when you go to work on the subway every day, you also expose yourself.”
The regional government tried to postpone elections to the end of May due to further pandemic outbreaks after Christmas, but was prevented by the courts.
“I want to tell all citizens that it is safe to vote and that they exercise their right to vote,” said socialist candidate Salvador Illa, who resigned from his post as Spanish Minister of Health to stand for election.
Polling stations opened at 9 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. local time (5 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brasilia time). The count begins immediately after the close of polling stations and the outcome of the election is expected to be known later Sunday evening.
The day was marked by lines, rain and low turnout, which the regional government of Catalonia attributed to the context of the pandemic. Around 6 p.m. (2 p.m. in Brasilia), voter turnout was 46.02%, 22 points lower than the same period in 2017.
The Socialists – who oppose the independence of Catalonia but say they are in favor of dialogue – are slightly ahead in the most recent polls. If they are the winners, they will need the support of other parties to form the first anti-independence regional government in nine years.
If the separatists manage to retain local power, a further declaration of independence seems unlikely, as the movement is torn between confrontational and more moderate approaches and its main leaders are imprisoned or have fled Spain after the events of 2017.