Spain's Socialists win Catalan vote as separatists take ground.

  • By Guy Hedgeko
  • BBC News, Madrid

image caption, Salvador Ella's Socialists emerged as the largest party in the Catalan parliament.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists have won regional elections in Catalonia after pro-independence parties were defeated.

The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), led by former Spanish Health Minister Salvador Ella, made enough gains to emerge as the clear winner.

With 99% of the votes counted, it has won 42 seats.

Support for independence has fallen to 42 percent from 49 percent in 2017, the Catalan government's statistics agency says.

In the run-up to this election, the issue of Catalonia's relationship with the rest of Spain was overshadowed by other challenges, such as the region's drought and housing crisis.

Former regional president Carles Puigdemont's hardline Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party finished second with 35 seats, reasserting its position as the main pro-independence force in the region ahead of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

But overall, nationalist parties lost support, meaning they no longer controlled regional parliaments, in a blow to the independence movement.

Nevertheless, pro-independence parties have won substantial concessions from the central government in recent years and continue to demand a referendum on independence.

Pere Aragonès' minority ERC government called a snap election after failing to muster enough support to pass the region's annual budget.

Mr Sánchez will see the result as a vindication of his policies in Catalonia – in particular, a controversial amnesty law benefiting nationalists who face prosecution for separatist activities.

The amnesty, which is moving through the Spanish parliament, has drawn a backlash from far-right opponents.

Mr Ella called the result “a new era for Catalonia”. He said that among the factors that achieved the result were “the policies implemented by the Spanish government and its Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, to whom I send my acknowledgment and thanks”.

The amnesty law was a condition of parliamentary support given by JxCat and the ERC to Mr Sánchez's investment, allowing him to form a new central government last November.

Mr Puigdemont, who fled abroad after leading a failed secession attempt in 2017, is expected to take advantage of the amnesty and return to Spain. He campaigned from the south of France before this election.

Despite the Socialist victory, it will not be easy for Mr Ella to form a government, as he needs the support of the ERC and the far-left Comuns Sumar coalition.

Mr Puigdemont called on the ERC not to be part of a coalition that included the unionist PSC. Instead, he suggested that the two main pro-independence parties should try to form an administration, as they had done in the past before their relationship broke down.

“If the ERC is ready to rebuild bridges, so are we,” Mr Puigdemont said.

However, the fragmented nature of the Catalan parliament, divided by unionist-separatist loyalties as well as left-right divisions, is likely to prolong post-election negotiations. If a new administration is not formed, elections will be held again.

The conservative People's Party (PP) made significant gains and became the fourth party in Catalonia, after the far-right Vox. By contrast, the self-proclaimed centrists of Ciudadanos lost their representation in parliament just seven years after becoming the region's main force.

Meanwhile, a new far-right party, the Catalan Alliance, won two seats on the back of its uncompromising platform of separatism and anti-immigrant policies.

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