The Catalan election campaign kicks off on Tuesday with polls pointing to a finely balanced race in which turnout could play a crucial role.
Surveys show it’s basically a toss-up whether the separatists will cling on to their majority in the regional parliament with the latest projections putting the three pro-independence parties on the cusp of the 68 seats they’ll need to keep control of the legislature.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is betting that an increase in turnout among voters less fired up by the campaign for independence could tip the balance against the separatists and help him to restore a degree of normality after months of turmoil following an illegal referendum. If the separatists fall short, a governing coalition that isn’t defined solely by its stance on independence could giving the region, and Spain, a chance to move on.
“This isn’t a question where voters are undecided, it’s a polarizing issue and the key is whether you get your voters out,” said Kiko Llaneras, a pollster at Quantio, a political-risk firm based in Madrid. “Pro-independence voters are very mobilized, so the scope to build on that is small.” In recent elections, support for separatist groups has been squeezed as turnout has increased, though with their support concentrated in less densely populated rural areas, the secessionists have managed to maintain their majority in the legislature.
One factor weighing on the separatist parties is the collapse of the alliance they forged for the previous regional ballot in 2015. Ousted Regional President Carles Puigdemont is now competing with his former allies of Esquerra Republicana. Esquerra is set to overtake Puigdemont’s group to become the biggest separatist party, even though its leader Oriol Junqueras is in jail in Madrid where the Supreme Court is investigating him over his role in October’s declaration of independence. “Esquerra wants to be the leading force in the pro-independence movement and running alone broadens the space for future coalitions,” Llaneras said. “Losing seats is the price you pay for running separately.”
Puigdemont, who fled Spain for Brussels after declaring an independent
Catalan republic, is trailing in third or fourth place as he tries to sustain the momentum in his campaign from his self-imposed exile.
The pro-Spain parties are led by Ciudadanos, which is challenging Esquerra to become the biggest party in the parliament. The average of the last five polls shows the three separatist groups on track to win 45.5 percent in total, with parties opposed to independence on
44.5 percent. Catalunya en Comu, an ally of anti-establishment party Podemos,
is set for 7.5 percent and backs self-
determination for the region, without demanding independence.