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Spain's political crisis is 'back to square one' after Catalonia election

  • The outcome of regional elections in Catalonia have further complicated a Spanish political crisis, analysts said
  • With nearly all the votes counted, separatist parties were seen getting 70 seats in the 135-seat assembly, Reuters reported
  • Exiled former First Minister Carles Puigdemont's party was the largest pro-independence group
  • Ciudadanos, a party opposed to Catalan independence, achieved its best victory to date and is set to form the largest party group with 37 seats
Pro-secessionist supporters react to election results for the Catalan National Assembly on December 21, 2017, in Barcelona, Spain.
Borja Sanchez-Trillo | Getty Images
Pro-secessionist supporters react to election results for the Catalan National Assembly on December 21, 2017, in Barcelona, Spain.

The outcome of regional elections in Catalonia Thursday have further complicated a Spanish political crisis, according to analysts, with one predicting that there is a high risk of a new vote taking place next year.

Given the fragmentation of the result, the ongoing political process will be "far from straightforward," said Antonio Barroso, managing director of consultancy Teneo Intelligence, in a note entitled "Back to square one" on Friday.

With nearly all the votes counted, separatist parties were seen getting 70 seats in the 135-seat assembly, Reuters reported, citing official data. Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) was seen winning 34 of those seats, ahead of two other separatist parties.

Ciudadanos, a party opposed to Catalan independence, achieved its best victory to date and is set to form the largest party group with 37 seats.

The vote saw a record high turnout, with more than 80 percent of Catalans casting their ballots.

IBEX falls

The Spanish IBEX 35 fell as much as 1.5 percent around the open though has since pared some losses. Spanish banks in particular posted sharp declines.The euro was down over 0.2 percent against the U.S. dollar Friday morning.

The Spanish central bank cut its economic growth forecasts for 2018 and 2019 on the back of Catalonia-related instability earlier in December.

Tempering this negative sentiment, Bob Parker, investment committee member at Quilvest Wealth Management, told CNBC Friday that he "would be surprised ... if the issue of Catalonia breaks into a major piece of market disruption," adding instead that he expected only "some short-term minor bouts of volatility."

But the outcome is an uncomfortable truth for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose party fared poorly, scoring only 3 seats. Rajoy is backed by European Union leaders, though the Spanish police has been condemned by various groups for its heavy-handed measures in quelling secessionist sentiment since Catalonia's unofficial independence referendum on October 1.

"Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country," Puigdemont said in a televised speech late on Thursday, according to Reuters. "We are the comeback kids," Puigdemont's spokesperson wrote in a text message to the news agency.

A frustrated future

But the exiled leader's victory is likely to be a frustrated one, with his party's rule reliant on support from smaller parties.

Additionally, Puigdemont is not a free man in Spain and will be arrested if he returns to the country. He is currently in self-imposed exile in Brussels, and as a result his party may have to put forward another candidate to lead Catalonia — one who is not necessarily guaranteed to win over political allies.

"The investiture of a new first minister is likely to be a protracted and noisy process," Barroso said.

"The risk of new elections in 2018 remains high," he later added.