“Incierto futuro” (Uncertain Future) was the tagline on Spanish newspaper El País’ editorial today, summing up national feeling after regional elections in Catalonia. The separatist bloc achieved a slim majority of 70 parliamentary seats with 48 percent of the popular vote, on a record turnout of over 80 percent (The Guardian). The poll had been predicted as a cliffhanger (see WikiTribune coverage), and although the vote was closely split, the result is a rebuff to Madrid and central government’s attempts to quash the rebellious secessionists.
Although secessionists now have two seats fewer than their 2015 results, the outcome is still a resounding success for them. It is a clear setback for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who called elections after imposing direct rule in the hope of laying to rest the continual drive for Catalan independence.
The election saw the rise of Catalan anti-independence party Ciudadanos, which came in first with 37 parliamentary seats and 25.4 percent of the vote. But Ciudadanos’ success wasn’t enough to stop the advance of Junts per Catalunya (JxC) and Esquerra Republicana (ERC). They came in second and third place with 34 and 32 seats, respectively, and almost identical popular support. Once more, these mainstream separatist parties will have to rely on the support of the radical CUP to form a government, an uneasy proposition (El País) given their differing stances on how to achieve independence.
Support was down for the separatist front and anti-capitalist CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular). They retained four seats and 4.5 percent of the popular vote, compared to 10 seats and 8.2 percent in 2015.
None of this dampened the mood of Carles Puigdemont, who as leader of the victorious JxC party will be leading the negotiations to form another separatist government. At a press conference in Brussels Friday (Sky News live), he said: “Rajoy needs to start being on the side of solutions, not problems.” Puigdemont said he was prepared to meet the Spanish prime minister: “I am ready to meet Rajoy, here in Brussels or somewhere else in the EU, not Spain … We need political solutions, not legal and court action.”
Earlier he had tweeted: “The Catalan Republic has defeated the monarchy of [Article] 155. Now, it is necessary to rectify, repair and restore. The recipe that Rajoy sold in Europe has failed. Let them take note”
La #RepúblicaCatalana ha derrotat la monarquia del 155. Ara cal una rectificació, una reparació i una restitució. La recepta que Rajoy va vendre a Europa ha fracassat. Que prenguin nota #JuntsxCat
Victory is sweet for Puigdemont. After separatists in the Catalan parliament declared independence on October 27, Rajoy applied Article 155 of Spain’s constitution and imposed direct control over the semi-autonomous region. He fired Puigdemont and his ministers, dissolved the parliament, and called for early elections. Puigdemont and a few of his ministers fled to Belgium shortly after. It’s still unclear whether Puigdemont will return to Catalonia, since he is still a wanted man in Spain.
The biggest loser is Mariano Rajoy. Not only did he fail to break the separatist coalition, but his Partido Popular (PP) barely managed to retain three regional seats and 4.2 percent of the popular vote. It is a crushing defeat compared to 2015, when the PP came second-to-last with 11 seats and 8.5 percent of the popular vote. Rajoy had no immediate comment, as the New York Times reported. The paper commented: “After months of feuding, Mr. Rajoy, Catalonia and indeed all of Spain ended up close to where the crisis had started.”
Political scientist and editor of Politikon, Jorge Galindo, told WikiTribune he doubted Rajoy would take any premature action after the poll. “He is not going to change his strategy. I think he is going to wait. And if I were him, I would be trying to exploit divisions in the independence movement. This has been a good thing for Puigdemont, but there are still many in the independence parties who are not happy with the result”.
Can Puigdemont, who is still subject of a Spanish arrest warrant, again become president? Galindo says: “A very interesting question.”
‘An utter mess’
“It’s an unholy mess,” says author and commentator on Spanish affairs, Paddy Woodworth. He is highly critical of both sides in the independence struggle. “I don’t believe the [Catalan] nationalist leadership has a coherent programme,” he told WikiTribune. “It is an utter mess, and they have campaigned without taking any responsibility – it is just independence, and no details. I think they are lucky [in the election], and they can be very happy. But let’s remember they did just squeak it in.”
As for Mariano Rajoy and the Spanish government, Woodworth says they are “equally irresponsible and incompetent. I attribute a lot of blame to the PP in the whole Catalan crisis. It goes back to their refusal to discuss a new tax deal in 2010. … The mainstream in Catalonia would never have gone for independence, but they felt slapped in the face.”
Now, he says, the Partido Popular has been humbled by coming in seventh in the Catalan assembly. “They are now an absolute irrelevance.”
But what happens next? “Nobody knows.”
- WikiTribune has been covering the current Catalan crisis in depth. See all our coverage.