Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists won a clear victory in Sunday's Catalan regional election, in which Carles Puigdemont and fellow separatists lost their majority after 10 years in power. 

The vote came six years after Puigdemont led a botched 2017 independence bid that triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades. 

Led by Salvador Illa, Spain's health minister during the pandemic, the Catalan Socialist party won 42 of the regional parliament's 135 seats - nine more than in the previous election in 2021. 

Hailing the result as "historic" in a posting on X, Sanchez said it would mark the start of "a new era in Catalonia". 

"A new era for all Catalans, whatever they think," said Illa as his supporters cheered his victory. 

It was a major victory for Sanchez, who had wanted to show that his policy of defusing tensions triggered by the Catalan crisis had worked, ultimately reducing pro-independence sentiment in this wealthy northeastern region of eight million people. 

And it gives him some much-needed breathing space after a difficult start to his latest term in office which began in November and has been soured by right-wing opposition and a graft probe into his wife that almost caused him to resign. 

Since becoming premier in 2018 in the months following the failed separatist bid, Sanchez has sought to "heal the wounds" caused by the unprecedented political crisis 

In 2021, he pardoned the separatists jailed over the secession bid and is currently advancing an amnesty bill for those still wanted by the justice system in exchange for key separatist backing that let him secure a new term in office.

No more separatist majority

In gaining more than 200,000 votes, the Socialists managed to deprive the pro-independence parties of the majority they needed to stay in power in a region they have ruled for the past decade. 

Final results showed Puigdemont's hardline JxCat, the moderate ERC of outgoing Catalan leader Pere Aragones and the smaller hard-left CUP secured 59 seats, compared with 74 last time. 

Even if they were to count the two seats won by the new ultranationalist Catalan Alliance, they would still be well short of the 68 seats required to rule. 

JxCat won 35 seats, slightly higher than last time, while ERC fell sharply to 20, down 13, and CUP won just four, down from nine. 

Puigdemont, 61, fled Spain to avoid prosecution following the botched secession bid and has lived in self-imposed exile ever since, running his campaign from southern France. 

Although he will be allowed back when the amnesty bill becomes law, he had hoped a strong showing in Sunday's vote would have seen him re-elected leader, paving the way for a triumphant return. 

He pledged to retire from politics if he failed to win. 

Alliance building

Despite his victory, Illa is still a long way from the 68 seats required to rule and must now seek out the necessary backing to be sworn in as regional leader. 

Although the Socialists also won most votes in 2021, Illa was unable to cobble together a majority while the separatists managed to piece together a 74-seat coalition.

Analysts say the most likely option would see the Socialists allying with the radical left Comuns Sumar, which won six seats, and ERC, which won 20.

Together they could count exactly 68 seats. 

The vote also saw a breakthrough by the right-wing opposition Popular Party which won 15 seats up from three in the previous election, while the far-right Vox held onto its 11 mandates. 

Both parties are vehemently opposed to the pro-independence movement and have fought tooth and nail against Sanchez's amnesty bill which will become law within weeks, allowing Puigdemont to return home. 

Voter Ainhoa Matos, 31, expressed hope the election would give a greater voice to non-separatist Catalans. 

"People like me who are not pro-independence have not had enough of a voice or representation, so I hope that can change," she told AFP.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us