On December 21st, Catalonians vote on a working day—the first time in 20 years—for the next president of the Generalitat.
After months of high tension from the independence movement, a new government of Catalonia will be decided on Thursday, December 21.
With several candidates campaigning from jail, another in Belgium, and a strongly polarized Catalan society, the elections are unprecedented.
Here we explain step by step what we will happen in Catalonia in the next few days.
When, where and how to vote?
After activating Article 155 for the first time since the approval of the 1978 Constitution, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in late October decided to dismiss the Catalan Government, dissolve the local Parliament and call for elections.
Rajoy had stated that he wanted the elections to be held as soon as possible and set the date for Thursday, December 21, right on the eve of the popular Christmas lottery. The voting will take place during a working day for the first time in more than 20 years
As an exception, workers will have a paid leave for a maximum of four hours to go vote.
More than five million Catalans are expected to vote, of which 136,300 are casting a vote for the first time and 224,844 live abroad.
What about the candidates in jail?
One of the most unusual aspects of the election is that former Vice-President Oriol Junqueras, President of the Catalan National Assembly Jordi Sánchez, and ex-counsellor Joaquim Forn are running as candidates from prison.
Junqueras is the main candidate for the pro-independence party Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), whereas Sanchez and Forn are candidates number 2 and 4 respectively for the Carles Puigdemont's party Junts per Catalunya.
But can a person run as a candidate from jail?
The Organic Law of the Electoral Regime qualifies as "ineligible" those who have been convicted of rebellion or terrorism charges.
This is not the case for Junqueras, Sánchez or Forn, who are currently in provisional detention for the crimes of rebellion, sedition, and embezzlement of public funds. Since the trial for the case has not yet taken place, the three candidates are able to run for their political parties.
However, their campaigns suffered as they were not allowed to leave prison to campaign or use social media in the run-up to the elections.
To make up for these obstacles, the ERC has decided to close their campaign near the municipality of Estremera in Madrid, where Junqueras is being held.
What happens if Junqueras is elected president of Catalonia?
A report commissioned by the ERC, and carried out by law professor Joan Vintró, points out that there is no legal reason why Junqueras should not be allowed to accept the position or be sworn in as president of Catalonia as long as he is not sentenced.
Miquel Iceta, candidate for the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), has proposed to pardon the independence leaders to "close wounds" in Catalonia.
Will Carles Puigdemont return to Spain?
Former President Carles Puigdemont has campaigned from Belgium.
Just a few days from the elections, rumours point to the possible return of the Catalan leader to Spain as electoral campaign closes.
While the Supreme Court has withdrawn the arrest warrants for Puigdemont and the four 'ex-counselors' who traveled with him to Brussels last October, the Belgian courts have closed the extradition proceedings.
Therefore, if Puigdemont comes back, it will be at his own discretion: “He knows that he will be arrested immediately the moment he sets foot in the Spanish state, he knows the consequences, but he also has a firm political compromise,” said his lawyer, Jaume Alonso-Cuevillas.
What could happen after the elections?
The whole electoral campaign has been marked by the deep division between pro-independence and unionist parties.
There are two possible scenarios after the elections: an independence victory or a unionist victory.
If the secessionist parties win, "Madrid would be forced to negotiate a democratic and peaceful solution to the current conflict," Catalan political analyst Dídac Costa told Euronews, adding that it "would go through a legal, agreed and binding referendum, as happened in Quebec or Scotland."
And if unionist forces were to win, Costa says that this scenario would "legitimize", in Spain and the EU, "the continuity and deepening" of the "forceful measures" of the Article 155.
The latest polls published by the Spanish newspaper El Diario point out that Catalonia in Comú, the local branch of national left-wing grouping Podemos, could end up as the kingmaker. The party supports a legal referendum, although not necessarily independence, and is more concerned with pushing its social agenda.
Who are the candidates to the Generalitat?
Here we explain who the candidates presidency of Catalonia are and how their campaign promises differ.