On Wednesday, Mr. Rajoy told the Spanish Parliament that the December elections would signal a return to “normality” in Catalonia. He forecast a large turnout and an election result that “will open a new political phase in which the rules of the game are respected.”
Still, the latest opinion polls suggest that the results are too close to call. Catalonia’s three main separatist parties are expected to win 66 of the 135 seats in the regional Parliament — resulting in a loss of six seats and the majority they have held since 2015 — according to a survey by the pollster GAD3 published by La Vanguardia newspaper.
In preparing for the vote, the independence movement is focusing on the plight of its main candidates, who are facing trial by Spain’s judiciary. On Thursday, a handful of Catalan lawmakers are set to appear before the Spanish Supreme Court to face accusations of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for organizing an independence referendum last month despite its being declared illegal by Spain.
The judge could order jail without bail, following the lead of a judge from Spain’s National Court who issued a similar order for eight former members of Mr. Puigdemont’s cabinet pending a full trial. Altogether, 20 Catalan politicians are facing prosecution. If found guilty of rebellion, they could face up to 30 years in prison.
The stage therefore seems set for an unorthodox election, with leading candidates running either from a Madrid jail or from Brussels. Mr. Puigdemont and four former cabinet members are awaiting a decision by a Belgian judge who is reviewing an international arrest warrant issued last week by the Spanish authorities. Mr. Puigdemont argues that Spain’s judiciary cannot guarantee them a fair trial.
Around 8,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Catalan government headquarters in Barcelona on Wednesday to demand the release of the jailed politicians, according to the local police.
The general strike held on Wednesday mostly affected the transportation and education sectors, with schoolteachers and university students joining the strike. Protesters paralyzed part of the high-speed rail network, after blocking the tracks in Sants, Barcelona’s main train station, and in Girona, a city along the main rail link between Catalonia and the border with France.