An unofficial exit poll in Catalonia’s regional election suggests a coalition of pro-independence parties have secured a small majority, Spanish media reports.
Although commentators warned the poll should be treated with caution, if it proves accurate, the result could open up a new and uncertain chapter in the Catalan political crisis.
The separatist parties are predicted to win 67-71 seats in the 135-seat assembly, the poll showed, with the unionist bloc set to take 55 to 62 seats and the local offshoot of anti-austerity party Podemos taking seven or eight seats.
The crisis has damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a mass exodus of businesses from Catalonia, which has long since been the economic powerhouse of the country.
The regional elections are regarded as an indication of how support for the independence movement has fared since the regional government was sacked by Mr Rajoy following the referendum, which was not legally recognised.
Deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont urged voters to show they back independence by voting for another secessionist leader.
The turnout was at a record high for the regional election with over 83 per cent of eligible Catalans turning out to have their say at the ballot box.
In contrast to the violence that boiled over on the streets of Spain during October’s referendum, the regional election passed off peacefully.
The exit poll contradicts final pre-election surveys that predicted the separatist parties would lose control of the regional parliament and running neck-and-neck with unionists.
The first official preliminary results are expected by 9pm and final results after midnight.
Additional reporting by Reuters