Catalonia heads to the polls as unity of Spain hangs in balance

2015-09-27 10:08
Supporters of independence for Catalonia demonstrating in Barcelona to mark the Spanish region's official day or "Diada". (Lluis Gene, AFP)

Supporters of independence for Catalonia demonstrating in Barcelona to mark the Spanish region's official day or "Diada". (Lluis Gene, AFP)

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Madrid - Voters in Spain's north-eastern region of Catalonia were set to go to the polls on Sunday, in elections billed by the region's leader as a referendum on its independence from Spain.

Artur Mas, the head of Catalonia's government, formed a separatist alliance ahead of the region's parliamentary elections and, should he win, plans to declare sovereignty within 18 months for the wealthy region's 7.6 million people.

"It is the most important election since Spain's return to democracy," the Madrid newspaper El Mundo declared on Saturday.

Mas's liberal ruling party, the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), is aligned with long-time rivals in the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the independence coalition Together for Yes.

The separatists' plan for independence is said to be the greatest challenge for the Spanish state in the country's recent history, with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy saying his government would under no circumstances allow Catalonia's secession.

"No one will destroy the unity of Spain," he said.

According to surveys, Mas's alliance has reason to hope for a clear victory. Earlier polls have shown that the separatists could emerge from the election as the decisively strongest power and might only narrowly miss an absolute majority. The support of the left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party could be crucial in this regard.

EU politicians have suggested that an independent Catalonia would have to be automatically cut out from the European Union and the eurozone currency bloc.

Experts have also forecast heavy losses for the economies of Catalonia and Spain as a whole if the region secedes, with banks and large firms reportedly drawing up plans for a possible withdrawal from the region.

Mas wanted to hold a referendum for independence in November of last year, but Madrid blocked the vote by filing a complaint to the Spanish Constitutional Court, which then declared such a vote illegal.

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