November 2015        

What happened in the Catalan elections?

Tomás Mac Síomóin

In the parliamentary election in Catalunya on 27 September the independista Junts (“Together”) won 62 of the 68 seats required to have an absolute majority. This is an uneasy coalition of Convergencia (hardcore neo-liberals, beset by corruption scandals), headed by Artur Mas, and Left Republicans (Esquerre Republicana), headed by Oriol Junqueras, united in the struggle to liberate Catalunya from what they see as Madrid’s centralist rule.
     On entering into this coalition Esquerre Republicana gave precedence to its secessionist stance, leaving its socialist principles outside the door as it buttressed Convergencia’s programme of savage cuts in social expenditure.
     To ensure an “independista” majority Junts will have to depend on the ten seats of the other overtly independista party, the CUP (Party of Popular Unity), a party of Marxist, anti-capitalist orientation. CUP stands for withdrawing from both the Spanish state and the EU and renouncing Catalunya’s national debt.
     Negotiations between these three groups to form a secessionist Catalan government is continuing at the time of writing. They have just one month to arrive at an agreement.
     CUP will come on board—but only with well-publicised stringent conditions. Apart from ending the austerity regime of Junts—the most severe in Spain—and the general retrogressive drift of its social policies, and securing crucial cabinet posts, it also demands the resignation of Artur Mas from the Catalan presidency. As Mas has just been indicted by the Supreme Court of Catalunya (a Spanish institution) for having organised an “illegal” referendum last year, his presidency may no longer be such an obstacle.
     Also, unlike either of the Junts partners, CUP maintains that unilateral declarations of independence are the competence of the whole people, expressed through referendum, and not solely of their parliamentary representatives. This conflicts with the stated position of Junts, which is that the recent election also constituted a de facto independence plebiscite and therefore empowers the regional Catalan parliament to declare the independence of Catalunya.
     If Junts cannot agree to all the CUP’s demands it could still rule as a minority government, supported by CUP, depending on the willingness of the latter to act in this capacity. Another election at this point could be fatal to Junts, as this is the second time that Mas has proclaimed independence to a wearied and increasingly cynical electorate.
     The group with the second-highest vote after Junts, with 25 seats, is the right-wing anti-secessionist Ciudadanos (Citizens), now organising all over Spain. Its performance in coming from a previous 9-seat position to 25, far ahead of the Partido Popular, the Spanish government party (reduced to 11 seats from a previous 19), is ringing alarm bells for the latter. With national elections looming in December, the threat of serious competition for the conservative vote from the yuppified pro-EU Ciudadanos, preaching transparency and the virtues of the free market, to the now weary, decrepit and irremediably corrupt PP, is increasingly evident.
     The Podemos front, Catalunya Sí Que Es Pot (“Catalunya really can”), paid for that formation’s perceived fuzziness on economic issues, the result of its intention to extend its appeal beyond the traditional working-class constituency, as well as its anti-independence stance. In spite of the active involvement of Podemos’s big guns in the campaign, and its hope of replacing the Catalan Socialist Party, the latter came in with 16 seats, 4 down from a previous 20 but well ahead of Catalunya Sí Que Es Pot, which, on its first time out, limped in with 11 seats. This is seen as a severe blow to Podemos, which still has high hopes of being in Spain’s new government after next December’s national elections.
     The present PP Spanish government, taking refuge in the country’s constitution, will refuse to negotiate the issue of independence with whatever Catalan government emerges from present talks. The latter, most probably, will likewise await the result of the forthcoming national elections before wanting to enter into such negotiations. The possibility exists that a new left government in Madrid will be disposed to try to solve the Catalan question for once and for all in the context of restructuring Spain as a federal state, in place of the present highly centralised regime.
     However, the joker in the pack could well be the growing doctrinaire neo-liberal Ciudadanos, a party very capable of helping a stricken PP get back into government—or, equally, of supporting the equally neo-liberal “socialist” party (PSOE), on condition that no deal be done with the Catalan secessionists.

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