3/3 © Reuters. Catalans fear the risk of COVID-19 in the elections on Sunday 2/3
By Joan Faus BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalan voters headed to the polls on Sunday for an election that will test the strength of the Spanish region’s independence movement in an era now dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. Whether the elections are won by the separatist parties now in power in the region or by the socialists who run Spain’s central government, it is unlikely to lead to a repeat of the chaotic and short-lived declaration of independence of late 2017. be an important sign of the attractiveness of separatists and could affect the political trajectory of the independence movement in the coming years. Opinion polls point to low turnout, and voters are concerned about the risk of contagion at polling stations. In the last elections, held months after the failed independence attempt, an anti-independent centrist party ranked first, but the two main rival separatist parties, the center-right Junts and the leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, broke through to form a government. Tensions have subsided substantially since then, and the campaign has largely focused on how to tackle the pandemic. Recent opinion polls have shown the Socialists, who oppose independence but favor dialogue, slightly ahead, although they would need the support of other parties to form the first regional anti-independence government in nine years. “It is time to reconcile, build bridges, dialogue and seek agreements within Catalonia,” Socialist candidate Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister, told Reuters until two weeks ago. He has ruled out governing with the support of the extreme right Vox, which could win seats in Catalonia for the first time. If the separatists manage to maintain control, a new declaration of independence seems highly unlikely, as the movement is divided between moderate and confrontational approaches and its top leaders are jailed or fled Spain after the events of 2017. “We have always maintained that it is better to agree to a referendum with Spain, “Pere Aragones, Esquerra’s candidate and acting Catalan head of government, told Reuters. He said achieving a combined 50% turnout of the vote would allow separatists to push for a referendum from a position of strength, but ruled out any unilateral independence movement in the short term.