A woman casts her ballot in a polling station at FC Barcelona's Auditorium, next to Camp Nou stadium, during regional elections…
A woman casts her ballot in a polling station at FC Barcelona's Auditorium, next to Camp Nou stadium, during regional elections in Catalonia, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 14, 2021.

Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia is voting Sunday to elect a new parliament and prime minister, with pro-independent parties aiming to retain control and the Socialist Party of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez hoping to take over leadership of the wealthy region for the first time in a decade. 

Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister and in charge of the country’s coronavirus response until two weeks ago, leads the ticket of the Socialist Party. 

The pro-independence parties want not only to maintain their majority in parliament, but also to broaden their base by winning more than 50 percent of the popular vote for the first time.   

Opinion polls conducted before the Sunday’s election have predicted a tight race between the Socialists, which were slightly ahead, and the two leading pro-independence parties, the left-wing Republic Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) and the center-right Together for Catalonia (Junts per Catalunya). 

Political analysts have said that if separatists manage to hold on power, a new drive for independence seems very unlikely, as the movement is divided between moderate and conservative approaches and its top leaders are serving prison terms or have fled Spain after the short-lived 2017 declaration of independence.   

Polling stations will close at 8 p.m., local time, and the results are expected by midnight.