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Catalan vote fails to clarify Spanish region's future  

UNB NEWS

Friday 22 December, 2017 03:28:58 pm

Catalan vote fails to clarify Spanish region's future   

Barcelona, Dec 22 (AP/UNB) - Elections in Catalonia have failed to clarify the restive region's immediate future, exposing a deep and broad split between those for and against independence from Spain.

The Spanish government called the snap election after Catalan separatist parties unilaterally declared independence in October, following a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish authorities.

Spain's government fired the regional government, arrested some of its leaders and dissolved the Catalan parliament.

Here is a look at the outcome of Thursday's ballot:

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WHO WON?

The pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes in what was the biggest electoral triumph so far for the party founded just over 10 years ago.

Ciutadans, led by 36-year-old lawyer Ines Arrimadas, has been the main opposition to the pro-independence movement in Catalonia.

However, it was a bittersweet victory for the business-friendly party because its 37 seats in the 135-seat regional assembly aren't enough for it to form a regional government on its own, or indeed to lead a coalition of pro-Spain parties.

The real winners turned out to be the pro-independence groupings, who together have a majority in the new Catalan parliament.

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WHO LOST?

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party came last with just three seats in what was a major blow to the country's governing party.

Rajoy argued that the unrest in Catalonia over its October bid for independence had hurt the economy in what is Spain's richest region, accounting for about one-fifth of the country's national income. By appealing to their pockets, Rajoy had hoped Catalans would turn against the separatists.

The Citizens party, emboldened by its strong showing in Catalonia, could become a stronger challenge for the Popular Party on a national level.

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WHO WILL TAKE POWER?

Parties demanding independence won 70 seats, giving them a parliamentary majority, though they didn't get as many seats as they did in the last election two years ago.

The separatists' slim parliamentary majority will allow them together to negotiate the formation of a government. Past squabbles between them suggest it won't be easy.

Together for Catalonia snared 34 seats, making it the most popular separatist party. Its leader is Carles Puigdemont, the fugitive former Catalan president. He campaigned from Belgium where he is evading a Spanish judicial probe into the October attempt to split from Spain. The investigation could lead to charges of rebellion and sedition that carry penalties of decades in prison if he returns to Spain for a possible trial.

The left-wing republican ERC party collected 32 seats. Its leader and Puigdemont's former No. 2 Oriol Junqueras is being held in jail near Madrid while the investigation continues. The radical, anti-capitalist CUP has four seats.

A major question is who from their ranks those three parties might agree on to become Catalan president and what conditions they would each impose on each other and what they will seek from Madrid.

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WHAT ABOUT SPAIN?

The elections kept alive the turbulent issue of Catalan independence, which has scant support in Spain.

The likely continuing political unrest and uncertainty is unwelcome for investors if the early market response Friday is anything to go by. The Madrid stock exchange opened 1.6 percent lower.

Investors "are wisely taking a little risk off the table" after seeing the Catalan result, ETX Capital senior market analyst Neil Wilson said in a note.

Spain's central bank last week blamed the uncertainty in Catalonia for its decision to cut its national growth forecasts for next year and 2019 to 2.4 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.