Catalan pro-independence parties keep their majority in snap poll
Barcelona: Catalan pro-independence parties have held their absolute majority in snap regional elections, dealing a severe blow to the Spanish government, which had called the polls in the hope of heading off the secessionist push.
The deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, described the result as a "a slap to the face" to the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy.
The three separatist parties won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament even though the centre-right, pro-unionist Citizens party was the single biggest winner, taking 37 seats.
Between them, the three parties will have enough seats to reassemble the parliamentary majority that put them into office after the 2015 elections if they can agree a new coalition.
However, they once again failed to attract a majority in favour of independence: taking 47.7% of the vote and two seats down in comparison with the last election.
Together for Catalonia – the party led by Puigdemont – took 34 seats, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) took 32 and the far-left, anti-capitalist Popular Unity
Candidacy took four.
The Catalan Socialist party took 17 seats, while Catalunya en Comú-Podem – the Catalan version of the anti-austerity Podemos party – took eight.
Trailing them was the Catalan branch of Spain's ruling People's party, which won three seats – eight fewer than in 2015.
Thursday's snap election was called by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, in October after he used article 155 of the constitution to take control of Catalonia and sack its government over its unilateral referendum and subsequent declaration of independence.
The vote, which pitted secessionists against unionists, attracted a record turnout of more than 80%, dispelling fears that holding the election on a weekday rather than the usual Sunday would hit turnout.
Puigdemont had been campaigning from Belgium after fleeing to Brussels on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial in Spain over possible charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
His former vice-president, Oriol Junqeras, leader of the ERC, is in prison along with two prominent pro-independence leaders.
Puigdemont said the results had demonstrated the strength of the Catalan people. "As Catalan president I wish to congratulate people for delivering an indisputable result," he said in Brussels. "We have won this election in exceptional circumstances, with candidates in prison, with the government in exile and without having the same resources as the state."
Marta Rovira, number two on the ERC ticket, said the election showed that Catalans had voted for a republic.