Barcelona: The head of the Catalan government held talks with other senior politicians on Thursday on whether to hold early elections in the Spanish region after a symbolic weekend independence vote.
Artur Mas from the centre-right Convergencia i Union (CiU), which has ruled Catalonia since 2011, discussed the possibility with Oriole Junqueras, the head of the left-wing opposition Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) which props up his government.
The ERC, which leads in opinion surveys, is pushing for early elections in the wealthy northeastern region. Elections were not due before 2016.
If pro-independence parties win a majority of seats in the regional assembly, the ERC wants them to make an unilateral declaration of independence.
"We must take a step forward as soon as possible," Junqueras told reporters after his talks with Mas.
Catalonia`s leaders said 2.3 million people in the region of 7.5 million turned out for Sunday`s independence vote, which was stripped of legal force after challenges from Madrid.
Of the 5.4 million voters aged over 16 who were authorised to vote, 1.86 million favoured independence, they said.
Mas declared the vote "a total success" and now wants the central government to allow Catalonia to hold an official independence referendum similar to the one held in Scotland in September. The "No" side won that referendum.
Spain`s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday dismissed the referendum, which was organised by volunteers, as an act of "political propaganda" to which "two out of three Catalans paid no attention".
Mas wants all parties which back an official referendum to contest a regional election jointly as a way of allowing voters to express support for an independence poll.
But Junqueras has rejected the possibility of his party running together with others although he does not rule out forming a government made up of all parties that favour independence.
Mas also met with the leader of the Catalan Socialist party which favours "dialogue" with Madrid and a reform of Spain`s constitution to make Spain a federal state.
A poll taken in September by the regional government`s Center of Opinion Studies put support for the ERC at 19.8 percent, compared to 13.1 percent for the CiU and 5.9 percent for the Socialists.
Demands for independence in Catalonia, which accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain`s economy, have grown over recent years despite Madrid`s resistance, fanned by the economic crisis.