Voting underway in Catalonia despite pandemic concerns

Barcelona, Spain, Feb 14 (efe-epa).- Voters in Spain’s Catalonia region headed to the polls for regional elections on Sunday despite an ongoing third wave of Covid-19 cases.

Anxieties were evidenced by the fact some 33,000 polling station workers, 38% of the overall total, formally asked to be recused from their duties, which are allocated by a lottery system similar to jury duty.

Some 5.5 million voters in Catalonia are eligible to vote in the regional elections, which will decide the make-up of the 135-seat parliament. Lawmakers will then elect a new president of the region.

Older people and those in high-risk health groups have been asked to cast their votes before midday, after which time the rest of the electorate can exercise their democratic right. People currently in self-isolation and those positive with Covid-19 should cast their ballots in the final hour of voting, according to local authorities.

Polling station staff have been provided with personal protective equipment.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE), which currently leads the national coalition government with smaller left-wing partners Unidas Podemos, had fielded former health minister Salvador Illa in the Catalan elections.

A well-known face in Spanish politics since the Covid-19 outbreak began, the PSOE hopes Illa can boost the appeal of the party’s Catalan branch enough to unseat separatists in the regional chamber. Separatist parties from across the political spectrum cobbled together enough seats to form a coalition executive following the last election.

Political debate in Catalonia is divisive and complex.

Emotions have run particularly high since the illegal independence referendum slated by the regional government of Carles Puigdemont in 2017.

Several high-level politicians and activists, including the ex-vice president of the region, Oriol Junqueras, were later sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for their role in the referendum. Puigdemont is wanted by Spanish authorities and remains in exile in Belgium.

The jailed politicians became figures of political martyrdom in the eyes of their supporters but were vilified by their opponents as being responsible for Spain’s biggest constitutional crisis in decades. EFE-EPA


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