Carles Puigdemont
Carles PuigdemontReuters

Separatist parties are on course to retain a majority in the new Catalan parliament, early results from Thursday’s election suggest.

With almost all votes counted, the unionist Citizens (Cs) party had the biggest share of the vote, according to the BBC.

Normally, the largest party has the right to try to form a government. According to the results so far, this would be the Cs, but the separatist parties may insist they have the right to try first, if they have the largest number of seats overall.

Within the separatist party block, ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia party was slightly ahead of the Republican left of Catalonia, led by his former deputy Oriol Junqueras.

In September, Catalonia held a referendum on independence from Spain. The Spanish government declared the referendum illegal and cracked down on participating voters. Over 800 people were wounded in clashes with police on the day of the referendum.

Spain then dismissed the separatist Catalan government after declaring the referendum to be illegal, dismissing Puidgemont and his government, who left for Belgium.

"Today we will demonstrate the strength of an indomitable people. May the spirit of #1oct guide us always," Puigdemont tweeted on Thursday night from Belgium.

He added, however, that "this is not a normal day" and "neither is it a day of normal democracy". His team told the BBC that he was unable to vote as he was in Brussels.

Turnout was reportedly more than 80%, a record for a Catalan regional election.