…. but possibly more divided than ever.
The Catalan regional election of 21st December has not resolved the situation in Catalonia. The Cuidadanos or Citizens Party (unionist) of the centre right was the highest polling party in terms of votes and seats ( 25.4% and 36 ), overtaking JxC or Together for Catalonia, lead by Carles Puigdemont, which achieved 21.7% and 34 seats. The Republican Left, pro-independence allies of Puigdemont, gained 21% and 32 seats. This means that ERC and JxC, together with the far left CUP (four seats) have a wafer thin majority in the 135 seat Generalidad, less than formerly and assuming that they can form a coalition.
Barcelona, by far the most populous area in the region, and Tarragona, the other large city, are the least independence minded, while Girona and Lleida, a predominantly rural hinterland, are most supportive of the secessionist parties (the electoral system slightly favours the rural elements). Parties which promoted moderation, like the Socialists and the Catalan equivalent of Podemos, did not do well. The corruption stained Partido Popular of the right, lead by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, was reduced to a hand full of seats.
Thus far both Cuidadanos and the pro-independence parties have been celebrating a victory. In fact what we have is a stalemate.
Though some things have changed.
With a turn out of over 80% the secessionists can no longer claim that an overwhelming majority of Catalans want independence, but then, the Spanish state cannot claim that there is an as yet unheard silent majority who overwhelmingly want to stay with Spain. There are arguments to be heard on both sides. JxC is led by a man in self-imposed exile and ERC’s leader is in jail, so this was a far from ‘normal’ election, yet still the pro-independence parties come close to having a majority. On the other hand the media is as far from moderate and even-handed as it is possible to be (without turning into the Daily Mail) and, within Catalonia, this means heavily pro-independence, yet still no pro-independence party won outright.
The separatists must now realise that the chances of Catalonia being recognised as a unilaterally declared state, independent of Spain, are nil – the EU lined up firmly behind the Spanish government during the crisis. Also, they tried it – it failed. So it’s a bolt shot, a ship that has sailed.
In addition, several of the leaders of the separatists are now saying that the aforementioned declaration was symbolic only. There are those among JxC’s allies who are dyed-in-the-wool secessionists, so it is not a foregone conclusion that a coalition will be easy to form and may be even harder to maintain. In addition, eight of the pro-independence politicians elected on Thursday are already incarcerated or face jail and warrants have been issued for more arrests. How will such depletion affect voting in the parliament?
Rajoy and the PP have some facing up to do too. The Catalonia crisis isn’t going to go away. There are real constitutional issues here and they aren’t going to be addressed by calling pro-independence supporters criminals. The pro-independence politicians do have a mandate of sorts, albeit not a clear cut one. For Rajoy, who is the leader of a minority government, despite the support of the main opposition parties over this particular issue, the emergence of Cuidadanos, if replicated on a national scale, is an existentialist threat to his party.
Puigdemont says that he and Rajoy must talk, though outside of Spain, something Rajoy is unlikely to agree to. Rajoy says the rule of law must be paramount, though many accuse him of hiding behind the judges. Both sides are even more entrenched, though any unilaterally applied solution is going to leave half of Catalonia unhappy.
Yet there are good economic reasons for seeking a brokered solution. Since the illegal referendum of 1st October over 3,000 companies have relocated their headquarters outside of Catalonia. According to some sources this accounts for one fifth of Spain’s entire economy. Wider ramifications are beginning, with Friday’s fall in the Bolsa of 1.2% and the shares of Catalan banks like Caixa and Sabadell dropping by 3%. Instability and potential conflict are good for none of the parties to this dispute and not good for Spain.
The formal declaration of the results of the election will take place on 5th January. 2018 promises to be an interesting year. N.B. For a different definition of the word ‘overwhelming’ read The Demagogue’s Dictionary )