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MADRID (Reuters) - Catalan separatists are set to win a majority of seats in the regional parliament in an election this month, potentially putting them on a path to a unilateral declaration of independence and a clash with Madrid, a poll on Monday showed.
Separatist parties are portraying the regional election on Sept. 27 as a proxy vote on independence, although that is disputed by center-right Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has ruled out a breakaway by the wealthy northeastern region.
The two main Catalan parties supporting a split from Spain, who have put forward a joint list of candidates, are set to win about 39 percent of the vote and between 62 and 65 seats in the Catalan parliament, according to a Sigma Dos poll for El Mundo newspaper.
That is fewer than the 71 seats that the two parties won in the last regional election in 2012, which they fought separately, and would leave them short of the 68 seats needed for an absolute majority.
But together with the eight or nine seats expected to go to another separatist party, CUP, it would give them a slim majority in the parliament, the poll said.
Pro-independence leaders have said that winning a majority of seats, and not necessarily of votes, would give them a mandate to launch a process leading to a unilateral declaration of independence in 18 months' time.
The poll of 1,400 Catalans, carried out between Aug. 31 and Sept. 3, found more voters opposed to independence than supporting it, with 44 percent in favor, 46 percent against and nine percent undecided.
Juan Rosell and Jose Luis Bonet, prominent Catalan businessmen who lead two of Spain's biggest business organizations, urged politicians on both sides of the independence debate on Monday to talk to each other, reflecting concern over the possible damage that political uncertainty could cause to business and investment in Spain.
After Rajoy's government went to court last year to block a referendum on the region breaking away from Spain, Catalan separatist campaigners defied Madrid and staged a symbolic vote on independence last November.
About 80 percent of the 2.2 million people who voted backed secession, but the turnout was little more than 40 percent.
Rajoy, who has called Catalan independence "nonsense", is expected to make defense of Spanish unity a plank of his campaign to win re-election in a national vote in December.
Reporting by Adrian Croft and Rodrigo de Miguel; Editing by Julien Toyer and Angus MacSwan