BARCELONA (Reuters) – Catalonia’s top court on Tuesday suspended the regional government’s decision to delay a parliamentary election from next month until May due to the coronavirus, a potential setback for separatists who would have less time to make their case.
The election is considered a litmus test for the Catalan separatist movement, as pro-independence parties hope to garner more than 50% of the vote for the first time in what opinion polls foresee as a tight race.
The Catalan government, led by pro-independence parties, sought to move the vote to May 30 from Feb. 14 in what it called a health measure due to rising coronavirus infections. Opponents of the decision argued the date change violated the rule of law.
Some polls have shown the regional branch of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists on course to become the biggest party in Catalonia if the election is held next month; a delay might give the separatists more time to catch up.
With a final decision still pending, the court issued a preventive injunction suspending the date change. While the ruling implies that a previous decree setting the date for Feb. 14 is now in force, the court said the provisional measure does not indicate its final opinion on the date.
The regional government can file an appeal by Thursday.
Politics in the wealthy region has been dominated in recent years by a push for independence, which in 2017 triggered one of Spain’s biggest political crises in decades when the Catalan parliament issued a short-lived declaration of independence following a referendum declared illegal by courts.
The election was triggered by Spain’s Supreme Court ruling in September to bar then head of government Quim Torra from public office for 18 months after he disobeyed an order from Spain’s electoral committee.
(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Peter Graff)