Spain PM's Socialists eye power grab in Catalan vote

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists are hoping to show Catalonia has turned away from its independence fixation by winning Sunday's regional vote and defeating separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.

When the polls open at 9:00 a.m. (07:00 GMT), the wealthy northeastern region of some eight million people will vote for 135 deputies to the Catalan parliament.

Opinion polls suggest Sanchez's Socialists are ahead of Puigdemont's hardline separatist JxCat and its rival ERC, led by current regional leader Pere Aragones.

Polls close at 8:00 pm with results due out several hours later.

"We need a change on May 12, and only the Socialist Party and (its candidate) Salvador Illa can lead that... to move Catalonia forward in coexistence and social rights," said Sanchez in Barcelona on wrapping up the campaign.

Since becoming premier in 2018, some nine months after a failed Catalan separatist bid of October 2017, Sanchez has sought to "heal the wounds" caused by the unprecedented political crisis.

In 2021, he pardoned the separatists jailed over the secession bid. In November he moved to promote an amnesty bill for those still wanted by the justice system in exchange for key separatist backing in parliament that let him secure a new four-year term in office.

The bill is in the Senate, due to pass into law in coming weeks. This will allow the return of Puigdemont, 61, the Catalan separatist leader who oversaw the botched independence bid then fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution.

The controversial measure has brought the right-wing and far-right opposition to the streets in huge protests, accusing Sanchez of letting himself be held "hostage" by the separatists to stay in power.

 High stakes<...

Continue reading on: