Catalans go to the polls today in an extraordinary election which could play a crucial role in the future course of the restive Spanish region.
The election was called by the Spanish government as part of a crackdown on Catalonia after the region declared independence two months ago. Separatists hope that the pro-independence parties - Esquerra Republicana, CUP and the Junts per Catalunya coalition - achieve a decisive majority in the polls, thereby providing a mandate for a fresh independence push.
But the latest polls suggest that the election is likely to result in a hung parliament, which would dent the hopes of the secessionists.
A Metroscopia poll cited by Reuters showed that the unionist parties are likely to gain 62 seats and the separatists 63, well short of a majority in the region's 135-seat legislature.
The last time Catalans went to the polls in a legal election, in 2015, the separatists won 72 seats, thereby achieving a majority in Parliament, but fell short of achieving 50% of the vote.
On October 1 Catalonia held an illegal referendum which returned an overwhelming majority in favour of independence, but well under half the region's population turned out to vote. The region's figurehead, Carles Puigdemont, declared independence on the back of the referendum result but has been living in self-imposed exile ever since.
Despite the forecast of a hung parliament, Puigdemont sounded a note of optimisim this morning, writing on Twitter: "Today we demonstrate once again the force of a people irreducible. I hope the spirit of October 1 guides you always!"
Puigdemont's deputy, Oriol Junqueras, who was jailed as part of the post-independence crackdown, also wrote an impassioned message to his wife and kids, saying today's vote is the culmination of "four intense but happy years" and saying "I am convinced that soon I will be free and can give you all a hug."