https://www.bbc.com-image copyright EPA
image caption Pere Aragonès is tipped to become the region’s new leader
Separatist parties in Spain’s semi-autonomous Catalonia region will boost their majority in the local parliament, near-complete results suggest.
With more than 90% of votes counted, the three parties are on course to get 74 seats in the 135-strong assembly, up from 70 in the outgoing parliament.
That would allow them to govern, despite splits on major issues.
Meanwhile, the unionist Socialist Party looks likely to win the biggest share of the vote.
The backdrop of this election was far removed from the last one, just over three years ago, says BBC World Service Europe regional editor Danny Aeberhard.
Then, it was the fervour of a rancorous dispute with Madrid over independence, he says. Now, it has been the coronavirus pandemic – with polling station staff decked out in full protective gear at the end of the day to enable those who had tested positive for the virus to vote. But politically, the result seems to be similar.
‘The time has come to negotiate’
The Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) is now on course to secure 33 seats, making its leader Pere Aragonès frontrunner to become Catalonia’s next leader.
“Sit and talk. I would like to send a message to European authorities, the results are clear,” Mr Aragonès was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
“We, the pro-independence parties have a majority, we have reached more than 50% of the popular vote. The Catalan people have spoken, the time has come to negotiate a referendum of self-determination. Please get involved.”
Mr Aragonès has been acting as regional leader since Quim Torra was disqualified last September for refusing to take down a pro-independence symbol from a government building.
The other two separatist parties, JxCat and CUP, are getting 32 and 9 seats respectively.
The Socialist Party is predicted to have 33 representatives.
In another development, the far-right unionist party Vox will enter Catalonia’s parliament for the first time with 11 seats.
Turnout in Sunday’s election was just over 53%, the lowest in modern times.
Catalonia, home to the city of Barcelona, is an affluent region in north-eastern Spain with about 7.5 million people.
Its drive for independence plunged Spain into its biggest political crisis in 40 years in 2017. The region had its autonomy suspended for almost seven months by the central government in Madrid after a failed bid to break away.
In 2019, Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists to jail terms of between nine and 13 years for that independence bid.