Catalans take their independence struggle to the polls Thursday in a hotly-contested election that could mark a turning point for their region just two months after a secession bid ended in failure.
The vote pits leaders of the wealthy northeastern region’s separatist movement against parties that want to remain in Spain, and opinion polls suggest both sides’ leading candidates are neck-and-neck.
Will voters again hand victory to pro-independence parties that tried to break Catalonia from Spain, one of whose candidates is in jail and the other in self-imposed exile in Belgium?
Or will they lose the absolute parliamentary majority of 72 seats they won in 2015 in what would be a stunning upset for the region’s secessionist drive?
At stake is the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,000 companies move their legal headquarters since Catalan leaders held a banned independence referendum on October 1.
While Catalonia has long been divided over independence, it was the referendum — and a heavy police crackdown on voters — that focused the world’s attention on the region.
After weeks of uncertainty as separatist leaders and Madrid played for time, the crisis came to a head on October 27 when the regional parliament declared unilateral independence.
That was short-lived, though, as Madrid took the unprecedented step of stripping the region of its autonomy, sacking its government, dissolving its parliament and calling snap elections.