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Catalonia elections: Poll aims to end separatist crisis

Highly-anticipated regional elections, aimed at resolving separatist crisis, could have EU-wide implications.

Catalan President Puigdemont

Catalonia is heading to the polls in a snap election to decide the future of the separatist project on Thursday.

The dismissed Catalan government, headed by former regional President Carles Puigdemont, declared independence from Spain on October 27.

The central government responded by enacting the previously-unused Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which allows Madrid to directly administer Catalonia.

The crisis sent shockwaves through Europe after Spanish police violently cracked down on an October 1 referendum on independence that saw 90 percent of voters choose to leave Spain, although voter turnout was less than 50 percent. 

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the snap elections in October and said that Article 155 would restore "normalcy" to the breakaway region.

Instead, it brought further protests and controversies.

Eight members of the regional Catalan parliament were jailed on November 2, including dismissed Vice President Oriol Junqueras. A total of 13 Catalan legislators have been accused of rebellion, sedition and other charges. 

Puigdemont fled Catalonia for Brussels with four other ministers in the hours following the declaration of independence. Spain issued an international arrest warrant for the sacked Catalan president, but dropped the warrant on December 5.

The Spanish warrant still stands. If Puigdemont returns to Catalonia, he will be arrested.

Junqueras, along with Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, two pro-independence organisers, are the only separatists that remain behind bars. Another seven legislators have been released on bail.

It is the first vote since the 2015 election that put secessionist parties in power. Polls conducted in Catalonia show the election could go either way.

Puigdemont is the presidential candidate for Together for Catalonia (JxCat). Junqueras' Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), formerly Puigdemont's coalition member, has gained support and is expected to edge out JxCat in total number of votes.

The two parties are projected to win roughly 60 seats. The parties won 62 as a coalition in 2015.

The Popular Unity Candidacy, a far-left, anti-capitalist and pro-independence party, will round out the secessionist parties with between eight and 10 seats, putting pro-independence parties in range of the 68 seats needed for an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament.

On the unionist side, the Citizens, a pro-EU populist party that generally votes right-wing, is projected to win roughly 30 seats. This is a better showing than the nine seats they won in 2015.

The regional representatives of the national right-wing People's Party and centre-left Socialist Party, along with the left-wing In Common We Can coalition, which is not pro-independence, are expected to garner close to 40 seats in total.

Polls close on Thursday afternoon.

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