A tale of four Catalan voters

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Barcelona (AFP)

Pro-independence, staunchly against it or sitting on the fence, Marc, Assumpta, Albert and Martin have very different opinions on who should win a crucial vote Thursday, reflecting deep divisions in the region.

- Marc Botey, 47, musician -

On his way to teach guitar to a student in Poblenou, a former industrial district of Barcelona now enjoying a hipster revival, Marc Botey says he will vote for the leftist, pro-independence ERC party, which is marginally ahead in opinion polls.

He is against Spain's central government led by the conservative Popular Party (PP), which he believes still has "ideological" remnants of the 1939-75 fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

He sees the ERC as "closer to the people", unlike the conservative separatist party of sacked Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, which he says is traditionally more linked to the regional "bourgeoisie".

But Botey also supports the ERC, founded in 1931, for "slightly romantic" reasons.

"There were people of my family who were members, almost since the beginning," he says, adding that they ran into problems during the dictatorship, which persecuted Catalans -- among others -- just for being members of the party.

And while he does not think the elections will resolve the current crisis, he sees one positive potential outcome.

With an expected record turnout, the vote could clarify once and for all just how many independence supporters there are in Catalonia.

"We want to know how many we are to be able to decide if it's worth it."

- Assumpta Corell, 21, student in audiovisual communication -

On her way to university in Barcelona from the nearby seaside city of Castelldefels, Assumpta Corell says she will vote for the centrist, anti-independence Ciudadanos party, which is also running strong in opinion polls.

In fact, Ciudadanos is the only party she has ever voted for, having backed them previously in general elections.

"It breaks from the two-party system in Spain that always sees the PSOE (Socialist party) and PP win," Corell says.

Besides the fact that it wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain, she also likes the fact that it is a youthful party -- its candidate in Catalonia, Ines Arrimadas, is only 36.

Of Arrimadas, she says "the fact she is a woman is really positive, as it means there could be a woman president in Catalonia."

Corell says it was tough for opponents of independence during the secessionist crisis, which culminated on October 27 when the Catalan parliament declared independence, though this was short-lived as Madrid stripped the region of its autonomy and sacked the separatist government.

She said she and others felt left aside, "like we weren't good Catalans, like we didn't exist... like we weren't that important."

- Albert Pujol, 69, farmer -

Surrounded by hens, geese and horses in his farm in the small town of Tona, Albert Pujol says he will vote for Together for Catalonia, the list headed by Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid arrest over the independence drive.

He goes back decades to explain his support for independence.

His family, on the losing Republican side of the 1936-9 civil war, suffered Franco's subsequent repression. An uncle was sentenced to forced labour while other relatives had to flee to France.

"That leaves a mark. This suffering has stayed with many of us, we can't forget it," Pujol says.

Albert, who says he has always voted for Puigdemont's party, adds that he did not actually contemplate independence once democracy was restored after Franco's death in 1975.

But in the past few years, when Catalonia's efforts to get more control over their finances were ignored or rebuffed, he changed his mind.

"They don't want to understand or listen to us, it's like they're always right," he says of the central government.

"At this point, it's best to go."

- Martin Munoz, 43, engineer -

About to go to work at the Seat automobile factory in Martorell where he works on autonomous cars, Martin Munoz says he is not sure about independence.

As a result, he is thinking of voting for Catalunya en Comu-Podem, a leftist grouping that includes Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau which is against independence but supports holding a legal referendum.

He compares the passions independence has stirred to football matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

"There is passion but no content," Munoz says.

"I think there are too many borders in the world to add more, it goes against my principles, but if it were for the best, then why not," he says.