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As-it-happened: Catalans vote in decisive election

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As-it-happened: Catalans vote in decisive election
Long lines formed at polling stations as people sought to fit in a trip to the polls around their working day. Photo: AFP
08:21 CET+01:00
Catalans take their independence struggle to the polls today in a hotly-contested election that could mark a turning point for their region just two months after a secession bid ended in failure.
  • Polling stations opened at 9am
  • Latest opinion polls showed it was neck and neck between independence and pro-unity parties
  • Catalonia goes to the polls with several of its leaders contesting the election from prison cells.
  • With partial results in at 10pm on Thursday it looked like three pro-independence lists appeared set to win 70 of the 135 seats in parliament -- two less than their previous tally of 72 seats in 2015.
  • Voter turnout hit a record high, soaring above 80 percent.

22:30 Catalan separatists set to reclaim absolute majority

Early results suggest that separatist parties looked set to win back their absolute majority, though anti-independence Ciudadanos had scored the best individual result.

READ MORE: Catalan separatists set to reclaim absolute majority


Ousted leader Carles Puigdemont watched the results from Brussels. Photo: AFP

20:15 A win for Ciudadanos?

La Vanguardia is reporting that according to a survey - based not on exit poll but interviews with 3,000 voters  - Ciudadanos will be the most voted for party but those parties supporting independence will together have garnered a bigger share of the vote.

20:00 Polls are officially due to close now, but those with queues outside will remain open. The first results will start coming in within two hours.

18.54 Queues have been forming again at election booths as Catalans who have just finished work rush out to cast their vote. Stats show that at 6pm turnout was a good five points higher than at the same tie during the last election in 2015. That's 68.01 percent compared to 63.12 percent two years ago.

15:51 Turnout is lower than in last election

At 1pm when the official data was released it appeared that just 34.51 percent of the electorate had so far turned out to vote. That is below the rate at the same time in the 2015 election (which was 35.1 percent).

But that may not be significant as the big difference is that unlike the usual Sunday voting, today is a working day and many voters are expected to cast their ballot at lunch time or after they have finished work. Polls don't close until 8pm so there is still time. 

15:30 What would an independent Catalonia look like?

If the separatist parties do win a majority and manage to form a government to push on with independence plans. What would the new nation look like? Aden Hayes examines the issue.

13:53 A young woman has voted on behalf of Puigdemont, the ousted leader 'in exile' in Brussels.

“Today is a very important day, not for the Catalonia of today but for the Catalonia of the future. And you, Laura, represent the dawn of this hope. The time has come for the Republic of the citizens to retire the monarchy of [Article] 155." he tweeted.

 

13.40 Huge interest in Inés Arrimadas.

The charismatic leader of the Catalan branch of Ciudadanos, was met with cheers from supports as she cast her vote. But also jeers from those who want independence.

Here is some more about her from a profile from AFP: 


Photo: AFP

Born in the southern Spanish town of Jerez de la Frontera and married to a Catalan former politician from the separatist camp, 36-year-old Arrimadas has quickly risen through her centrist party's ranks since she joined Ciudadanos in 2011.

Likened by the Guardian newspaper to French President Emmanuel Macron for successfully carving out a centrist path in a country long dominated by bipartisan politics, Arrimadas says the secessionists' bid to break away Catalonia is a "coup against democracy".

Branding her rivals' secessionist rhetoric "monothematic" and their nationalism "exclusive", the charismatic Arrimadas presents herself as a representative of all Catalans -- including those who migrated to the wealthy region from other parts of Spain in search of a brighter future.

She aims to lead with the backing of the ruling conservative Popular Party and the Socialists, and to focus on improving social services in Catalonia -- which, she claims, were ignored under Puigdemont  .

12:50 Graffiti

Someone has stencilled "Freedom" on the street outside a polling station in Barcelona. In other places municipal staff have been at work cleaning off political slogans.

 

11:15 Record turnout?

El Pais reports that today might see a record number of voters at polling stations. At the last regional election in 2015, turnout was already at 77 percent, well above the national average but recent surveys suggest this time round might see a new record of 84 percent.

11:12 Fighting 'fake news'

PM Mariano Rajoy's government announced a slew of measures to limit the spread of false reports ahead of the official results after Spain warned the European Union of a cyber campaign of "disinformation and manipulation" being conducted from Russia and Venezuela, AFP reports

Polls close at 8 pm (1900 GMT), with partial results expected around 9 pm (2000 GMT).

With electronic counting banned, polling stations will inform a private firm tasked by the central government of their individual manual count by phone.

The firm will announce results as they come in, and it is estimated that by around 10 pm (2100 GMT) some 80 percent of the votes will have been counted, giving a clear indication of the winner.

The government's official count will begin on December 24, with final results to be announced within three days.   

"There will be no digital counting involved. That means that it will be impossible for a cyber attack to cause problems when the time comes to count the votes. Everything will be manual and on paper," a government official said.

And here is the obligatory elecction day photo of nuns voting:

10:55 What next?

The latest polls leading up to the vote showed that the race between pro-unity and separatist parties was too close to call. So what are the likely scenarios? Read our full analysis here:

10:50 International support for independence process?

Ireland's Sinn Féin have sent over MEP Martina Anderson to observe the election in Catalonia. Her she is live from inside a polling station in Barcelona.

10.27 Message from Albert Rivera

The leader of Ciudadanos has tweeted a message with a photo from a pro-unity march: "If you also want change in Catalonia then lets vote. So  tomorrow we can begin a future of freedom, coexistence, hope and union."

 

10.00 Long queues have been forming outside polling stations

Lines of people waiting to vote at the some of the 2,680 polling stations set up across the region.

9.50: Puigdemont message from Brussels

This election day we won't be seeing the usual shots of all the leaders casting their own votes. Instead ousted leader Carles Puigdemont has tweeted from 'exile' in Belgium. 

"Today we will demonstrate the strength of an irreducible people. Let the spirit of the # 1oct guide us always #JuntsxCat # 21D

9.41 Happy Anniversary from a prison cell

Oriol Junqueras, the leader of ERC party and the deposed deputy of the government of Puigdemont is contesting the election from behind bars. But this important day also happens to be his wedding anniversary so he tweeted out a romantic message to his wife, from his prison cell.

"Today we've been married for four years. Four intense years of happiness. I am convinced that soon I will leave and I will be able to embrace all three of you. I love you".

 

 9.20: Who is voting?

Official data shows that over 5.5 millon people are eligible to cast their votes today. They will be choosing the `parliamentarians to fill the 135 seat regional parliament.

9.01: Voting is underway in the conflicted northeastern region where, although the vote is taking place on a working day, schools have been closed to allow the vote to go ahead.

The vote pits leaders of the wealthy northeastern region's separatist movement against parties that want to remain in Spain, and opinion polls suggest both sides' leading candidates are neck-and-neck.

Will voters again hand victory to pro-independence parties that tried to break Catalonia from Spain, one of whose candidates is in jail and the other in self-imposed exile in Belgium?

Or will they lose the absolute parliamentary majority of 72 seats they won in 2015 in what would be a stunning upset for the region's secessionist drive?  

At stake is the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,000 companies move their legal headquarters since Catalan leaders held a banned independence referendum on October 1st.

While Catalonia has long been divided over independence, it was the referendum -- and a heavy police crackdown on voters -- that focused the world's attention on the region.

After weeks of uncertainty as separatist leaders and Madrid played for time, the crisis came to a head on October 27th when the regional parliament declared unilateral independence.

That was short-lived, though, as Madrid took the unprecedented step of stripping the region of its autonomy, sacking its government, dissolving its parliament and calling snap elections.

'A date with history'

Axed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium, avoiding detention on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his role in the independence drive.

He has since campaigned virtually, holding rallies via videolink.

His deputy Oriol Junqueras remained in Spain and was jailed along with others pending an investigation into the same charges.   

Allowed just 10 phone calls a week, he has sent out messages and even poems to supporters from behind bars.   

Opinion polls suggest his leftist ERC party could win, and independence supporters in general are rallying to the cause, some of them wearing yellow, the colour of those protesting against the detention of separatists.

"If a leader is removed, another takes their place," said Marc Botey, a 47-year-old musician who will vote for ERC, stressing the independence drive would go on regardless who their leader was.

Over on the other side, the centrist, anti-independence Ciudadanos party is close to ERC according to polls and some suggest it could win under Ines Arrimadas, a charismatic 36-year-old.

"We have a date with history, these elections will be remembered," she told a cheering crowd in Barcelona to close the campaign Tuesday.   

Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique, a Catalan, tweeted Wednesday: "Sleep well, rest up. The future is in our hands."

No clear winner

Record turnout is expected but whatever the result, voters and analysts predict no single party will win a decisive majority, which will force negotiations to form a government.

Both camps consist of three parties that may struggle to join forces -- Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list, ERC and the far-left CUP party for independence, and Ciudadanos, the Socialists and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party against it.

In between is the leftist Catalunya en Comu-Podem grouping, which is against independence but supports holding a legal referendum and could play the role of kingmaker.

"Protracted and messy government formation negotiations are likely," predicted Antonio Barroso, deputy research director for Teneo Intelligence.   

Crucially, even if the pro-independence camp maintains its absolute majority, it is not expected to attempt another breakaway from Spain but rather try to enter into negotiations with Madrid.

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