Upcoming election in wealthy region could be referendum on independence from Madrid.
Catalans have started voting in an election described as the most important in Spain’s recent history, with opinion polls pointing to a win by supporters of a candidate who has pledged to declare the region independent.
Voting stations opened at 07:00 GMT on Sunday in Spain’s richest region of 7.5 million people where separatist feeling has increased in the recent years of economic crises.
Artur Mas, Catalonia’s nationalist president, told a crowd of tens of thousands of supporters as he was wrapping up his election campaign on Friday that the vote would “lead to freedom”.
“Sunday is a special day for the future of Catalonia. It is an historic day,” he said.
Opinion polls show the conservative Mas and his left-wing allies in the pro-independence list, Together For Yes, could win that majority and nearly half the votes overall.
For his part, Mariano Rajoy, Spanish prime minister, urged voters to return Catalonia to “normality”.
“There is a majority of Catalans who love their people and love their land, and do not want to see it amputated from Spain and from Europe,” he told supporters.
Nationalists in Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, complain that they get less back from Madrid than they pay in taxes.
Mas has promised to launch a roadmap towards independence by 2017 if he wins a majority in the regional parliament.