Catalans, nervous about coronavirus, vote in election that will gauge separatist strength

By Joan Faus and Guillermo Martinez BARCELONA (Reuters) - Catalans voted on Sunday in an election that will test the strength of the Spanish region's pro-independence movement, but in an era dominated by the coronavirus crisis rather than separatist sentiment. Election monitors swapped their face masks for full-body PPE, including suits, masks, visors, goggles and black bin bags tied around their feet during the final hour of voting - dubbed 'the zombie hour' - a time slot reserved for people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Other pandemic precautions during the day included temperatures taken on arrival, separate entrances and exits, hand gel on tap and floor markings to ensure social distancing.

Reuters February 15, 2021 01:10:45 IST
Catalans, nervous about coronavirus, vote in election that will gauge separatist strength

Catalans nervous about coronavirus vote in election that will gauge separatist strength

By Joan Faus and Guillermo Martinez

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Catalans voted on Sunday in an election that will test the strength of the Spanish region's pro-independence movement, but in an era dominated by the coronavirus crisis rather than separatist sentiment.

Election monitors swapped their face masks for full-body PPE, including suits, masks, visors, goggles and black bin bags tied around their feet during the final hour of voting - dubbed "the zombie hour" - a time slot reserved for people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Other pandemic precautions during the day included temperatures taken on arrival, separate entrances and exits, hand gel on tap and floor markings to ensure social distancing.

The day was marked by queues, rain and low turnout, which the Catalan regional government blamed on the backdrop of the pandemic. By 6 p.m. voter turnout was 46.02%, 22 points lower than at the same point in 2017.

Whether the election is won by the separatist parties now in power in Catalonia or the Socialists who lead Spain's central government, it is unlikely to lead to any repeat of the chaotic, short-lived declaration of independence in late 2017.

But it will still be an important signal of the separatists' appeal and could affect the political trajectory of the pro-independence movement for years to come.

"I have some fear and concern but it is a civic duty and so I come to vote but I don't think it's appropriate during COVID to call these elections," said pensioner Jose Antonio Martinez, queuing to vote outside the Sant Antoni market in Barcelona.

Candidates urged people to cast their ballot.

"I want to tell all citizens that voting is safe and to exercise their right to vote," said Socialist candidate Salvador Illa, who resigned as Spain's health minister to run in the election.

Close to 300,000 people requested to vote by mail, a fraction of the 5.5 million potential voters but still a 350% rise from those who requested mail ballots in 2017.

Recent opinion polls have shown the Socialists - who oppose independence but favour dialogue - slightly ahead, although they would need support from other parties to form the first anti-independence regional government in nine years.

If separatists manage to retain control, a new independence declaration appears very unlikely, as the movement is divided between moderate and confrontational approaches and its top leaders are jailed or fled Spain after the 2017 events.

(Reporting by Joan Faus and Jessica Jones; Additional reporting by Luis Felipe Castilleja, Jordi Rubio, Nacho Doce and Albert Gea; Writing by Joan Faus and Jessica Jones; Editing by Peter Graff, Pravin Char and Frances Kerry)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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