Spain's Catalonia region votes amid economic slump
Voters in Catalonia went to the polls Sunday in regional elections that could lead to the ouster of the Socialist-led coalition in Spain's powerhouse, which is wallowing in an economic slump.
Polls opened at 9:00 am (0800 GMT) and will close at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT), with first estimates expected immediately afterwards.
Some 5.4 million people in the northeastern region are eligible to cast ballots at 2,721 polling stations.
With a government budget of 39.7 billion euros (52.6 billiion dollars) last year, the wealthy northeastern region whose capital is Barcelona has long accounted for the biggest share of Spain's gross domestic product.
But in March data published by Spanish thinktank Funcas showed that in 2009 Madrid had for the first time accounted for the biggest share of the country's economic output, 18.71 percent, just ahead of Catalonia's 18.68 percent.
Being overtaken by Madrid hurt regional pride in Catalonia, where a sizeable minority would like to achieve independence from Spain.
Output by the Catalan economy, built on small- and medium-sized businesses, dropped 4.7 percent last year, according to Funcas, compared to a decline of 3.8 percent for Spain as a whole.
The Socialist-led coalition, in power since 2003, is expected to pay the price.
A poll published last weekend in the newspaper El Pais showed that 39.5 percent of potential voters backed the moderate centre-right nationalist Convergence and Union coalition and 20.4 percent the Catalan Socialist Party.
That is a level of support that could swing the nationalists back into an outright majority in the region.
© 2010 AFP