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Polls Show Tight Races In Catalonia's Upcoming Parliamentary Election

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People in Catalonia in Spain - at least for the moment - struggle over their future again this week. Voters choose a regional Parliament Thursday, and parties favoring independence from Spain hope to gain a majority. Guy Hedgecoe reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

GUY HEDGECOE, BYLINE: Throughout much of the fall, pro-independence chants like these were a common sound on the streets of Barcelona. But after weeks of turmoil and a unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan Parliament, the Spanish government abruptly halted the drive towards a new Catalan Republic and introduced direct rule. Spain's political crisis has also had economic repercussions. Around 3,000 companies have moved their legal base out of Catalonia recently due to the instability. HelpMyCash, a financial service comparison firm, is one of them.

LAURENT AMAR: We had to move the legal headquarter out of Catalonia. We have one of our shareholders who lives in Madrid, so it made sense to be there.

HEDGECOE: Laurent Amar is the company's founder. He says the impact of recent events has been easy to gauge.

AMAR: From one day to the other, the number of users who are concerned about bank account exploded and the number of people who were looking for mortgages shrank because basically the whole mortgage business in Catalonia froze. And so since October, we've seen a drastic reduction in the number of people who come and look for mortgages in Catalonia.

HEDGECOE: Carlos Rivadulla, a Catalan businessman who has been very critical of the independence movement, says the election could help bring normality back to the region.

CARLOS RIVADULLA: If we have a clear majority of pro-unity, pro-constitutional parties, yes, we'll have more stability; confidence and trust will be regained; investors, families, et cetera, et cetera, will start spending and kind of normalizing their lives and normalizing their expenditures.

HEDGECOE: But this is no ordinary campaign. Not only is it taking place with Madrid having introduced direct rule in the region but also four pro-independence leaders are in jail and are expected to face trial for sedition and rebellion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLES PUIGDEMONT: (Foreign language spoken).

HEDGECOE: The former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has taken refuge in Belgium to avoid a similar fate. He has been campaigning, though, claiming he remains the legitimate leader of the region. In this ad, Puigdemont presents the vote as another referendum on the independence issue.

Joan Tarda is a congressman. He says his pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party has three main objectives ahead of the election. The first one is to defeat the parties that support direct rule, and the second - to secure the release of his imprisoned colleagues.

JOAN TARDA: (Through interpreter) The third aim is to form a pro-independence government that has broad support, including from parties that are not necessarily pro-independence, in order to start building the Catalan Republic.

HEDGECOE: Delivering on that will be hard, and it's a tight race. Polls suggest pro-independence parties could win more seats than the pro-union parties. But even then, they could fall short of the majority they need to bring the independence issue back onto the political agenda. For NPR News, I'm Guy Hedgecoe in Barcelona.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUDDAH CHILL'S "GUITAR FLAVOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.