As expected the centre right Convergencia i Uniò (CiU) led by Artur Mas won the Catalan elections. However Mas has not lived up to his name which means more in Spanish as the CiU lost 12 seats in the process. That was not the outcome that the opinion polls had foretold.
Mas had stated that he intends to stage a referendum in this parliament on the issue of Catalan independence so does his loss of support make this more or less likely?
The answer is complicated because whilst the CiU is by far the strongest party in Cataluña it does not enjoy an overall majority. The other big winners were the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), a left grouping, which has seen its seats rise from 10 to 21.
Even with the final adjustment of seats under Spain’s proportional representation system this means 71 MPs in the Catalan Parliament support independence. The problem is the CiU and ERC are poles apart politically so it is difficult to see them forming a coalition. However politics is the art of the impossible so we will have to wait and see.
Mas has explained his party’s drop in support on the hard austerity measures it has had to introduce in the past legislature. As has been seen elsewhere in Europe the governments that have had to introduce such harsh policies have been ousted at the polls.
Cataluña is one of the richest regions in Spain but is at present also one of the most indebted. Hence the tough policies will have to continue. The CiU needs a party to help it govern: Mas as leader of the largest party has the right to choose who that will be. He can choose the ERC or the Catalan arms of PSOE (PSC) or the Partido Popular. With the ERC he knows they share his independence ideals whilst the PSC and PP are strongly opposed.
Mas called the elections two years early in September after Spain’s Partido Popular Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had rejected demands from the Catalan leader for the region to control its own taxes. Not only did he call a general election but also stated his intention of holding a referendum on independence. This fed in to the Catalans demand for full independence after 30 years of autonomy.
The view on the streets on election night was that the CiU and ERC already have a deal on independence and the referendum. In addition Catalans believe they contribute an unfair percentage of the nation’s finances in tax and even pay more still on their toll motorways.
The PSC is traditionally the second force in Catalan politics and was one of the parties of government in the legislature prior to the CiU taking power. The socialists now slip to third with just 20 seats losing eight seats. The Partido Popular gained one seat to 19 but the performance of both is viewed as poor. The overall turn out was 68.63 per cent: 10 points up on two years ago.
Read the results as you will: one thing is certain is that the Catalans thirst for independence has not been quenched. The future may seem more complicated than previously suggested but an independent Cataluña, or at least attempts for form a Catalan State, now moves to the top of the region’s and Spain’s political agenda.
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 27 2012)