POLITICIANS across Spain move into campaigning mode today for one of the most tightly contested general elections in decades, with the result universally regarded as too close to call.

Speculation is rife that the first coalition government since the country returned to democracy could be elected, and lengthy talks are likely to follow the April 28 vote.

However, missing from the campaign trail will be five of Catalonia’s pro-independence political prisoners who are on trial at the Supreme Court for their parts in the October 2017 referendum. All have been in “preventative detention” for more than a year and judges have rejected their petition for temporary freedom to participate in election events.

Former vice-president Oriol Junqueras, who heads Esquerra Republicana (ERC) – the Republican Left of Catalonia – is the highest-profile candidate in jail and is standing for Congress in the snap election, which was called by Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez.

Jordi Turull, Josep Rull and Jordi Sànchez are all running under the Together for Catalonia (JxCat) banner, also for places in Congress, while Raül Romeva is ERC’s first candidate for the Senate.

Judges dismissed their bid for freedom, but the Spanish legal system will allow them to leave prison to formally take office should they be elected.

Joaquim Forn, another of the accused who is also imprisoned, will not be freed to campaign as mayor of Barcelona, a vote that takes place next month.

Strange as it may seem, the former interior minister was chosen at random by Spain’s Electoral Commission to act as an official at a polling station on election day.

His partner, Laura Masvidal, said she found the notification in their letter box after she had returned from visiting Forn at Soto del Real prison in Madrid.

She told the Ara newspaper: “I get home and I find the instruction from the saintly and sacred Electoral Commission: Joaquim Forn i Chiariello has been selected to be head clerk at a polling table.

“This is Spain! Maybe the judge will consider that this time, it’s a good enough reason to release him.”

Catalan foreign minister, Alfred Bosch, meanwhile, criticised European institutions’ inaction over the Catalan crisis.

He asked members of the EU’s Committee of the Regions if they had seen the police brutality against voters in the October 2017 independence referendum, adding: “Fundamental rights are being challenged all across Europe … and yes, also in the Kingdom of Spain.

“Did you see a government, like yours, being suspended, and direct rule being imposed?”