By Raphael Minder and cross-posted from New York Times
BARCELONA, Spain — Spain’s effort to snuff out an independence drive in Catalonia was dealt a significant blow on Thursday as secessionists narrowly won an election called by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in hopes of calming the country’s constitutional crisis.
After Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers declared independence in late October, Mr. Rajoy invoked emergency powers for the first time in Spain’s democratic history. He ousted the Catalan government and imposed direct rule on the formerly autonomous region.
Mr. Rajoy then called new elections for the regional Parliament, hoping to reshuffle the political deck and calculating that Catalan voters would punish the secessionist leaders. Many are now being prosecuted for sedition and rebellion and campaigned from prison or exile.
That gamble did not pay off. Official results showed Catalonia’s separatist parties once again winning a narrow majority in the region’s Parliament — as they had before — an outcome that could allow them to revive their independence drive.
After months of feuding, Mr. Rajoy, Catalonia and indeed all of Spain ended up close to where the crisis had started.
The standoff is now certain to enter a new, equally contentious phase. It has already unsettled not only Spain but also its neighbors in the European Union, many of whom are fearful of separatist challenges of their own at a time of rising populism and nationalism. Almost no politician outside of Catalonia has supported the drive for independence.
But this time Mr. Rajoy will be politically weakened, even at a national level, after having lost his bet that a sufficiently large majority of Catalans would rally behind his call for Spanish unity to block the secessionist challenge…