The wealthy Spanish region of Catalonia will hold elections for its regional parliament on Sept. 7 — a vote the main parties want to use as a proxy for a referendum on independence opposed by Madrid.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Artur Mas, the head of the northeastern regional government, announced the date, which is a few months before Spain's general elections and reignites the deeply divisive issue of Catalonia's status within or without Spain.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has taken a hard line on secessionist ambitions in the region, which accounts for one-fifth of Spain's economic output.
The vote will be held on Catalonia's national day and will not include a joint list of candidates from the two main parties in favor of independence — Mas' Convergencia (Convergence) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (the Republican Left of Catalonia). "We will run with different [candidate] lists but with a common national road map," Mas said.
The Catalan regional vote had been due no later than 2016.
Catalonia defied Madrid and went ahead with a symbolic secession vote on Nov. 9, and Mas subsequently raised the prospect of early elections to further the independence cause.
A majority of people in Catalonia, by a very slim margin, would vote to stay part of Spain, a poll by the regional government showed in December — the first in years to show a majority against independence.