Catalan separatists set to hold onto power

Separatist parties won enough seats on Sunday (February 14) in Catalonia's regional parliament to strengthen their majority and likely maintain control.

However, a strong showing for the local branch of Spain's ruling Socialists suggests there will be dialog, rather than a breakup, with Madrid.

The result's unlikely to lead to a repeat of the chaotic, short-lived declaration of independence from Spain that took place in 2017, and triggered the country's deepest political crisis for decades.

For close to a decade, regional elections have been dominated by the push for independence.

But on Sunday, healthcare and the economy were at the forefront of voters minds.

Separatists won 50.9% of the vote, surpassing the 50% threshold for the first time.

The largest - the leftist ERC - said it would lead the regional government and seek the support of other parties for a referendum on independence.

It's led by acting regional chief Pere Aragones:

"Sit and talk. I would like to send a message to European authorities, the results are clear. We, the pro-independence parties have a majority, we have reached more than 50% of the popular vote. The Catalan people have spoken, the time has come to negotiate a referendum of self-determination. Please get involved."

The Socialists won the highest percentage - and the same number of seats as the separatists - meaning they will also try to form a government.

But that would require an unlikely alliance, however, with other parties.