Nearly two millions Catalans had voted in an informal independence referendum by six o’clock on Sunday night, the local government said.
1.2 million ballots were cast in Barcelona, a city with a population of 1.6 million.
5.4 out of 7.5 million Catalans were eligible to take part in what was dubbed a “citizens’ consultation” after Spain’s highest court struck down a planned referendum on independence as unconstitutional.
Voters were asked whether they wanted a Catalan state and whether that state should be independent from Spain.
For the parties that favor increased autonomy or independence for Catalonia, it was important to get turnout at two million or more, argued Carles Castro in La Vanguardia, Catalonia’s leading newspaper, earlier in the day.
If less than two million Catalans had voted, representing under 35 percent of the electorate, it would have hardly given the separatists a mandate to escalate Catalonia’s standoff with the central government in Madrid. Those parties won just under two million votes in the 2012 regional election.
“Expectations, however, would radically change if the autonomy movement managed to mobilize more than two million people,” Castro predicted. Such a number would represent more than half the electorate in a future election.
A high turnout could also put pressure on regional president Artur Mas who is reluctant to declare independence unilaterally. The Radical Left, the second largest party in Catalonia’s regional parliament, has suggested that “civil disobedience” may be necessary for the region to get its way. Commentator Lluís Foix argued in El Punt Avui newspaper that Mas must avoid a split in the separatist camp and would therefore likely call another legislative election to seek a fresh mandate for this ruling Convergència i Unió coalition.