Exit polls following Catalonia‘s snap election show pro-independence parties maintaining their majority in the regional parliament, setting up a conflict with Madrid.
Catalonia’s parliament has 135 seats, requiring 68 seats for a majority. Secessionist parties are projected to win between 67 and 71 seats.
The results are not in line with the desires of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who called the snap election in October.
Unionist parties are projected to win a maximum of 62 seats. No official results have yet been published and it was unclear if final results would match the poll published by La Vanguardia newspaper as voting stations closed.
Exit polls also showed a five percent increase in voter participation over the 2015 election that originally put pro-independence parties in power.
Rajoy issued a warning before the vote, saying the new government “complies with the law or it knows what will happen”.
This was an apparent reference to Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which Rajoy used to directly administer the independence-seeking region and dismiss the regional government after Catalonia declared independence in October.
Catalonia’s independence declaration came after an October 1 independence referendum that saw 90 percent of Catalan voters choose independence, although turnout was less than 50 percent. Spanish national police violently cracked down on the vote, using what rights groups called “excessive force”.
The separatist parties included centre-right Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), and far-left, anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).
Exit polls suggest ERC will be the pro-independence party with the most seats among the separatist parties, winning between 34 and 36.
This would mean ERC’s leader and Catalonia’s former vice president Oriol Junqueras, who is the only Catalan lawmaker that remains in prison on charges of sedition and rebellion related to the declaration of independence, will be Catalonia’s regional president.
Marta Rovira, the ERC’s second-in-command, told reporters on Thursday that she hoped the vote would “impose democracy” on Catalonia. Rovira went on to decry the fact that Junqueras could not participate in the election.
JxCat’s presidential candidate and former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont fled to Brussels after the independence declaration.
An 18-year-old Catalan woman named Laura Sancho ceded her vote to Puigdemont on Thursday, her first time voting.
Sancho told reporters that Puitdemont’s political situation is “horrible”.
Puigdemont tweeted the vote was “very important, not only for the Catalonia of today but also for the Catalonia of the future”.
Avui és un dia molt important, no per la Catalunya d'avui sinó per la #Catalunya del futur. I tu Laura representes aquesta albada d'esperança. És el moment que la República dels ciutadans jubili la monarquia del 155 #JuntsxCat #21D pic.twitter.com/5v9Meq0qJE
— Carles Puigdemont (@KRLS) December 21, 2017
The unionists were led by the C’s, a populist party that generally votes with the political right, and is projected to win the most seats of any party: upwards of 37.
Ines Arrimada, the top candidate for C’s, said Thursday’s vote was necessary for “coexistence in Catalonia” adding people should vote for “the political option they want”.
The C’s adopted a narrative of bringing back businesses that fled Catalonia since the independence crisis began.
A report released by the Spanish College of Commercial Registrars on December 1 said more than 2,800 businesses have moved their headquarters out of Catalonia for other parts of Spain between October 2 and November 30.
The regional branch of Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party has adopted a similar stance. The party’s presidential candidate, Xavier Garcia Albiol, said during a debate on Tuesday his first act as regional president would be to “call the companies that have left and ask them to come back”.
There is debate over how much of an impact the relocation of a company’s headquarters had on Catalonia, as most businesses continued operating in the region at similar levels.