The Catalan town where people want dialogue not division

In the picturesque Catalan seaside town of Calafell, residents voiced hope that Thursday's vote will open the way for talks between the separatist and pro-independence camps, and provide a way out of the uncertainty overhanging their region.

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Catalans take their divisions over independence to the polls in a hotly-contested election that could determine the course of their region just two months after a failed secession bid play

Catalans take their divisions over independence to the polls in a hotly-contested election that could determine the course of their region just two months after a failed secession bid

(AFP)
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In the picturesque Catalan seaside town of Calafell, residents voiced hope that Thursday's vote will open the way for talks between the separatist and pro-independence camps, and provide a way out of the uncertainty overhanging their region.

In this town ruled by a coalition of leaders from both sides of the independence divide, voters flocked early under the bright winter sun to cast their ballots at polling stations lining the Mediterranean coast.

"We really have to talk, so that we don't have to go vote again in 54 days' time. People are tired," said Pili Olive, a 44-year-old waitress, who feared a repeat election should no party win a clear mandate.

Olive, like many other Calafell residents, just wants a way to ease her region's anxiety.

A banned independence referendum on October 1 plunged Catalonia -- and the whole of Spain -- into its worst crisis since democracy was reinstated following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

But with no side projected to win a majority, messy government negotiations are likely. And in the worst case scenario, should talks fail, voters will be called back to the polls.

And residents of Calafell, where Nobel prizewinners Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Octavio Paz once spent their summers, want above all else to avoid such a prospect.

'We all became politicians'

Home to 25,000 people, Calafell is among a string of ancient fishing towns that saw a tourism boom following the end of the dictatorship.

One of the town's last remaining fishermen, Joan Rafael Nunez Margalet, did not go out to sea on Thursday because he was called to help man a polling station.

"We had to vote today, we couldn't have stayed home," he told AFP, adding that his vote was for the pro-unity camp.

"We have always got along fine here. The problem emerged five years ago, when both sides became radicalised, we don't know why, and we all became politicians."

"That's the problem. Politicians have always been politicians, but the people have always been ordinary people," he said,

Jordi Jornet, a 48-year-old cook who supports the separatist ERC party, said he would be willing to accept a coalition of his party with the pro-unity Socialists, "if that is good for society".

In a rare case for Spain, Calafell's Socialist mayor Ramon Ferrer rules the town in coalition with a local separatist group and the conservative, staunchly anti-independence Popular Party (PP) -- which runs the central government in Madrid.

But Ferrer admits it would be hard to mimic the town's model at a larger scale.

In Calafell, everyone knows each other; but rivalries are more bitter at the regional and national level.

"Above all, what dominates here is the fact that we meet each other whenever we go out on the street," he says.

That doesn't stop him from dreaming of a brighter future, however, where "bridges and commonalities" trump division.

Referring to what he called "the Calafell model", Ferrer quipped: "Maybe we need to patent our brand and export it".

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