Court leaves in question date of forthcoming Catalan vote

MADRID (AP) — A regional election in Catalonia, initially set for next month, remains up in the air after a court took a preliminary decision Thursday against a 3-month delay ordered by the northeastern Spanish region’s government due to the surge of COVID-19.

The Catalonia High Court said that, pending a final decision on the matter before Feb. 8, the election should preventively be kept for Feb. 14 instead of pushing it back to May 30. The court said arguments for its initial decision would be published Friday.

The timing leaves little choice to half a dozen political parties divided along the lines of left and right, but also between support or opposition for the region’s independence, other than to begin preparations for the vote.

The regional Catalan government, in the hands of a separatist coalition, had argued that a delay was needed as the peak of hospital admissions in the current surge in infections would be reached just days before the planned election date.

All political parties in the regional vote had agreed to the postponement except for the regional Socialists, whose candidate has the best chances of winning the vote in mid-February according to a Thursday poll by CIS, Spain’s official polling institute.

The leading candidate is Salvador Illa, currently serving as the country’s health minister and in charge of the pandemic response. His candidacy was announced in late December.

Catalonia’s Socialist Party, which is the regional chapter of the main partner in the national ruling center-left coalition, has not been in power in Catalonia since 2006.

The CIS poll predicted the Socialists could win up to 35 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament, above the possible 33 lawmakers projected for the Republican Left pro-independence party.

Illa was the preferred choice as regional chief for 22% of those quizzed, twice the popularity of his nearest competitor, Laura Borràs, of the pro-independence Together for Catalonia party, which is currently in power with the Republican Left.

The center quizzed 4,106 people by telephone between Jan. 2 and Jan-15. The poll has a margin of error of 1.6 percentage points.

As elsewhere in Spain, virus contagion has surged sharply in recent weeks in the powerful northeastern region, whose capital is Barcelona. With 2,844 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday — 621 of them in intensive care — regional authorities expect ICUs to reach a maximum expanded capacity of 900 beds occupied by coronavirus patients in the coming weeks.

The region’s political situation is still heavily dominated by the jailing in 2019 of nine political figures for their role in a secession push two years earlier. The separatist movement, which is supported by roughly half the region’s 7.5 million residents, wants to create a republic in the wealthy northeast corner of Spain.

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