Catalan separatists win majority in election, in rebuke to Spain and EU

'Catalonia is not Spain' poster / Barcelona 2010

NBC News — Separatist parties won a majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tension in Spain.

Prime minister Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.

The unexpected result sets the stage for the return to power of deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who campaigned from self-exile in Brussels. State prosecutors accuse him of sedition, and he faces arrest if he were to return home.

“Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country,” Puigdemont, said in a televised speech. He was flanked by four former cabinet members that fled with him.

At jubilant pro-independence rallies around Barcelona, supporters chanted “President Puigdemont” and unfurled giant red-and-yellow Catalan flags as the results came in.

Puigdemont’s spokesman told Reuters in a text message: “We are the comeback kids.”

The result unnerved global markets, contributing to a softer euro and subdued sentiment in stock markets. Opinion polls had predicted secessionists to fall short of a majority.

The EU’s major powers, Germany and France, have backed Rajoy’s stance despite some criticism of his methods at times.

When Catalan parliament declared independence after a referendum, Rajoy invoked constitutional powers to impose direct rule from Madrid on the region. He has said he would rescind direct rule regardless of the election result, but could re-impose it if a new government again pursued secession.

There was no immediate comment from Rajoy after the election results.

The election results for Puigdemont’s secessionist camp presents a fresh headache for the EU, which had defended the Spanish judiciary’s pursuit of separatist leaders on grounds that they had violated Spain’s constitution.

Puigdemont’s attempts to gain international support in Brussels have come to nothing so far. He has called the EU a “club of decadent countries” for declining to mediate a solution.

Separatist parties won 70 seats out of 135, with Puigdemont’s Junts Per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party retaining its position as the largest separatist force.

Turnout reached a record high with over 83 percent of eligible Catalans voting.

Puigdemont’s former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, and several other Catalan politicians are in prison, along with the leaders of the two main separatist grassroots movements.