After months of political crisis, the regional elections in Catalonia has brought the independence issue back to square one. The three separatist parties were handed a new absolute majority in the regional parliament. A verdict, which many calls as ‘a serious rebuff’ for the Spanish government and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
The pro-independence parties together for Catalonia (JxCat), Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Popular Unity (CUP) won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament. The centre-right, pro-unionist Citizens party was the single biggest winner, taking 36 seats.
Catalonia’s ousted leader Carles Puigdemont has declared that the Spanish state has been “defeated" and hailed the result as a victory for the "Catalan republic”.
As the final results came in, Puigdemont, who is currently exiled in Brussels, said: "The Spanish state has been defeated and Rajoy has received a slap in the face from Catalonia."
"I would ask for an unconditional meeting. I don't think we can negotiate just yet," Puigdemont told a news conference from Brussels.
Meanwhile, Rajoy on Friday dismissed a call by former Catalan leader to meet. Replying to the offer by Puigdemont, Rajoy said he will only engage with Inés Arrimadas, leader of the pro-unity Ciutadans (Citizens) party.
Millions headed to the polls in Thursday's crucial vote on the regional parliament, which was called by Madrid after it declared October's Catalan independence referendum illegal. Turnout was more than 80 percent, a record for a Catalan regional election. The Spanish PM deposed Catalonia's regional government after it made a declaration of independence following the referendum in October.
Rajoy now faces the prospect of further confrontation with a separatist coalition once again in power in Barcelona. His conservative Popular Party (PP) recorded its worst ever result in the vote.
Agusti Alcoberro, Vice President of Catalan National Assembly, said: "We can say that pro-independence forces have won the elections."
He told a crowd in Barcelona's Maritime Museum that "we demand the restitution of the (Catalan) government and the release of the political prisoners".
The ousted Catalonia leader said: "This is a result which no-one can dispute."
The European Commission said that its stance towards Catalonia remained the same, despite the election result. The executive arm of the EU previously stated that events in Catalonia were an internal issue for Spain.
Catalonia is one of Spain's wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. Before the Spanish Civil War, it enjoyed broad autonomy but that was suppressed under General Francisco Franco's dictatorship from 1939-75.
Political experts argue that the results provide an opportunity to open up the negotiation space and prevents the political crisis from transforming into a full-blown conflict. As Spanish government in Madrid seems indifferent to the results, the path ahead will be bumpy.
(inputs from IANS)