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Catalans vote in election that offers new chance to exiled separatist leader

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BARCELONA: Catalans voted on Sunday (May 12) in a regional election that offers the possibility of the return to power of a separatist politician who led a breakaway attempt in 2017, or an anti-independence government led by the Socialist Party.

Opinion polls forecast a comfortable lead for Socialist candidate Salvador Illa over the hardline separatist Junts and its more moderate rival Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), which currently governs the wealthy northeastern region.

A Catalan government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists would end a decade of separatist governments that have roiled Spanish politics, and would be a vindication of Sanchez’s conciliatory approach with the region.

But whoever wins will probably have to govern with alliances since no party looks likely to reach the 68-seat threshold for a majority on its own, meaning Sunday’s vote could herald the start of coalition talks lasting well beyond the election.

Junts’ candidate is Carles Puigdemont, who was Catalonia’s president during the ill-fated attempt to wrest the region from Spain in 2017 before he fled to self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Puigdemont has for years faced prosecution in Spain over the independence bid, and campaigned from southern France.

But he is set to return home following an amnesty put forward by the Socialist government in Madrid that would annul his arrest warrant, and has vowed to resurrect an independence bid.

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