Voters in Catalonia's Sunday elections punished the regional president who made a referendum over breaking away from Spain a central plank of his campaign.
But it was not Artur Mas's commitment to independence that they were punishing but his pro-austerity policies.
The rightwinger saw his party's majority reduced by a dozen seats to 50 when ballot results were declared today.
Mr Mas had asked the electorate to give him an absolute majority to lend weight to his Convergence and Union party's centre-right policies, including the call for a referendum.
Instead, voters left him 18 seats short and in need of a coalition to guarantee staying in power.
Catalan voters handed 87 seats, almost two-thirds of the local parliament, to four different parties that want a referendum on secession.
But the second-most supported party is pro-referendum Republican Left, which has been very critical of austerity and is unlikely go into coalition with Mr Mas's cuts-oriented party.
Republican Left more than doubled its presence in the Catalan parliament to 21 seats.
The election was called early to pressure national Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over Catalonia's contribution to national coffers, which many residents feel is too high.
Catalans say that that their industrialised region is being hit harder than most by austerity measures aimed at avoiding a national bailout.
And when national Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused to lighten Catalonia's tax load, 1.5 million people rallied in Barcelona in September, the largest in the region since the 1970s.
But Catalonia has €44bn (£35bn) of outstanding debt and the ratio of its debt to gross domestic product is 22 per cent, the highest among Spain's regions.
Catalonia has its own cultural traditions that were harshly repressed by the military dictatorship of Franco from the end of the civil war in 1939 to his death in 1975.
Growing economic concerns combined with this separate cultural identity have formed a flammable mix.
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