Catalonia has reelected regional president Artur Mas, who promises to call a referendum on self-determination for the northeastern Spanish region in his second term.
While the secessionist Convergence and Union party Mas leads did not secure an outright majority, it will probably be able to call a referendum with the support of left-wing parties.
Preelection polls predicted that two-thirds of the votes would go to parties that support independence.
The central government in Madrid has vowed to block an attempt to break away.
Many Catalans, who are among the richest people in Spain, believe that they are bearing the brunt of the country’s economic crisis.
The region accounts for 16 percent of Spain’s population but more than a fifth of its gross domestic product. An estimated $21 billion in Catalan taxes, or 8 percent of its economic output, is invested in other regions.
Mas has enacted spending cuts but the region’s finances remain in dire straits. Its bonds have been downgraded to junk status. Barred from borrowing independently, the regional government has requested rescue funds from Madrid, which has its own debt crisis.
Obstacles to independence
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservatives are set to be the second largest party in the new regional parliament. They believe secession would cripple Catalonia’s economy.
The obstacles to independence are formidable. Pierre Briançon writes for Reuters that “Catalonia would have to devise a new currency” if it left Spain and therefore the eurozone, one “that no one would trust while its current debt was still denominated in euros.”
As a breakaway region, Catalonia would need to reapply for EU membership, which could take years and prompt businesses to relocate in the meantime.
Altogether the region’s GDP could decline by up to 20 percent, aligning it with the rest of Spain, according to some estimates.