BARCELONA, Spain - Long lines of voters were forming at polling stations in Catalonia on Thursday in order to elect a new regional Parliament in what was being seen as a key vote on the future of the northeastern autonomous community of Spain.
Some 2,680 polling stations opened their doors at 9 am and would remain open until 8 pm, with 5.5 million eligible voters eligible to cast their votes to elect some 135 lawmakers that would comprise the Parliament.
A huge turnout of more than 80 percent was expected, according to surveys, despite the election being held on a working day _ something that has not happened in Spain since the general elections of 1982.
The vote was being held under special circumstances in that it was called by the central government in Madrid after it dissolved the previous Catalan Parliament following its unilateral declaration of independence from the rest of Spain on Oct. 27, following a referendum that had been ruled illegal by the country's highest court.
On the electoral list on Thursday were the leaders of the two main pro-independence parties, former regional President Carles Puigdemont and his former Vice President Oriol Junqueras.
Puigdemont, head of the pro-independence Together for Catalonia (JxCat) party, fled to Belgium along with four other members of his former government, while Junqueras, the leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) party, was in pre-trial detention along with two other candidates.
Puigdemont did not register to vote at the Spanish consulate in Brussels, but asked an 18-year-old girl to vote on his behalf.
Junqueras meanwhile cast a postal vote from a prison near the capital Madrid, where he has been held since Nov. 2 on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
This is the fourth time in seven years that elections have been held in Catalonia after 2010, 2012 and 2015.