MADRID The Catalan nationalist party CiU will win regional parliamentary elections in Spain on November 25, but will not gain an absolute majority, newspaper polls showed on Sunday, weakening any bid for independence.
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans marched in Spain's second city Barcelona in September demanding independence as the central government imposes swingeing spending cuts to achieve Europe-imposed deficit targets.
Four polls published in Spanish newspapers on Sunday said the pro-independence CiU party of Artur Mas would win between 60 and 64 seats in the Catalan parliament, little changed from the current 62 seats it now holds and short of the 68 seats it would need for an absolute majority.
Catalan President Mas has pledged that if he wins the regional election he will hold a referendum on independence for the region, one of Spain's wealthiest, a move Madrid says would be illegal.
An absolute majority would give the party more clout in its stand-off with Madrid. Without this mandate, the party will have to form a coalition or seek support from other parties in parliamentary votes.
Polls in La Vanguardia and El Mundo newspapers put the Catalan Socialists (PSC) in second place, with less than 20 seats. The Socialists are currently the second biggest party in the Catalan parliament.
However, polls in El Pais and ABC newspapers put the ruling centre right People's Party (PP) in second place, which would be a first for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's party.
Mas's push for independence was damaging to Spain's image abroad, Rajoy said at a political rally on Sunday.
The polls also showed that nearly half those questioned supported independence for Catalonia, which generates around a fifth of Spain's economic output.
On Saturday, the Spanish Treasury said it would pay Catalonia 3.3 billion euros in November to help the indebted region with its borrowing costs.
(Writing By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Rosalind Russell)