As-it-happened: Catalans vote in decisive election

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.

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
  • 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.

For members


14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain