A fragmented result seems possible, in which as many as seven parties enter the 135-seat Parliament. That could mean a difficult round of negotiations to form another coalition government. If the deadlock is complete, there is also the possibility of a second round of elections, as happened at the national level two years ago, following inconclusive general elections in Spain.
What could it mean for the separatists?
A crushing unionist victory would leave the separatists in potential disarray. But it is unclear what any other result would mean for the movement, including if the separatist parties win.
The main separatist parties held a fragile majority in the last Parliament. They have not agreed on how they would revive the fractious coalition, which is even more strained by the turmoil of the last few months. A smaller separatist party, the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy, is also competing, even while denouncing the vote as illegitimate, complicating matters further.
What about the rest of Spain?
Mr. Rajoy pledged that an early election would help return Catalonia to “normality and legality.” Should the result instead plunge the region into a new chapter of tensions and uncertainty, his own situation would become more fragile.
Mr. Rajoy already sits at the helm of a minority government in Madrid. He has been kept in office since last year by an alliance with Ciudadanos, the center-right party that is now expected to gather most of the unionist votes in Catalonia. Opinion polls, meanwhile, show Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party heading for a heavy defeat in the Catalan election. Such an outcome could shift the balance of power in Madrid.
Will the separatists accept the results?
The election is taking place in abnormal conditions, under direct, emergency administration from Madrid. The most controversial aspect of the campaign has been that the leaders of the two main separatist parties have not been in Catalonia.
Carles Puigdemont, the ousted leader of Catalonia, has been campaigning via satellite link from Belgium, where he fled fearing prosecution in Spain. His former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, has been in prison in Madrid, awaiting trial on rebellion and other charges. Both Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Junqueras have denounced the circumstances of the election, but they are expected to accept its outcome.
If elected, however, it is unclear how they could then take their seats in a new Catalan Parliament while also facing potential prosecution for sedition and rebellion, which can carry 30-year prison terms.
When will we know the outcome?
Polls open at 9 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Unlike Catalonia’s October independence referendum, which Spanish authorities tried to block with thousands of police officers, no clashes are anticipated this time. Pollsters predict a record turnout, after politicians on both sides presented the election as a make-or-break one for Catalonia. No official exit polls are expected, but representatives of the central government are due to announce the results before midnight.
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