Yesterday’s elections in Catalonia offered two readings. On the one hand, it was a matter of electing the 135 members of the regional parliament that will form the government in charge of managing the day-to-day affairs over a parliamentary term. On the other, it was the quantification, through a de facto referendum or plebiscite, of the support for a process of independence from Spain.
The first goal has led to an ample victory, albeit without an absolute majority (62 of the 135 MPs), of the separatist conglomerate Junts pel sí (Together for the yes), which revolves around Artur Mas (Convergència), Oriol Junqueras (Esquerra) and independents. This result will enable them to govern because there is no alternative majority with enough votes, from Ciutadans and the PP to the anti-establishment party CUP.
Some will highlight that CiU ERC totalled 71 seats three years ago and have now dropped to 62. It’s true. But this has to be compensated with the increase by 7 MPs of the radical party CUP and the break up of CiU, with a Unió that was left with no seats. In summary: in 2012, 74 MPs between nationalists and pro-independence. Today, 72, but all of them pro-independence. Watch out for this fact. For the first time since 1980, there could be a fully pro-independence government in Catalonia.
With regards to the second purpose, the one about turning the elections into a pseudo-referendum, although the sovereignists interpret the result as positive, it has fallen short to try to defy the State. If we add the 10 seats obtained by the CUP, sovereignism reaches 72 members, i.e. an absolute majority in parliament, but in votes it does not exceed 48 per cent. With this result, there is no “democratic mandate” to expect Europe to contemplate their claim for an independent State.
The CDC ERC independents victory is undisputable. The second force, the rising Ciudadanos, gets 25 MPs and less than half of the votes of the first force. The socialists, with 16, although at a historical bottom, did better than the survey predictions and the Catalan brand of Podemos Iniciativa (11 MPs) and the People’ Party (also 11) were hit forcefully.
Mobilization of the electorate, with a turnout of 77 per cent, has probably balanced the yes and no sides but did not cause a turnaround as some were predicting. Another false prediction associated nationalism with a low turnout. Also unsuccessful was the campaign of fear with which the Spanish Government, the PP, large employers, some Catalan companies, the Archbishop of Valencia and other exegetes had predicted an exit of the European Union and the Euro, the relocation of companies, the failure to pay pensions and an increase in unemployment by more than 600,000 people.
In addition, the funding scandals, the “Pujol case”, the break-up with Unió or the cuts in the welfare state do not seem to have affected the party led by Artur Mas. It seems like the excitement over a new project – an independent State – weighed more than the governing style of these past three years.
So, what now? The winners insist on the idea that once the Parliament is formed in October, they will announce their intention of establishing an independent State. They do have absolute majority of MPs for this. However, it’s s different thing to be able to make it effective beyond the formal statement, which the Government will take to the Constitutional Court who will, in turn, declare it null. How far will they take their rebelliousness? In the meantime, what will the judiciary do about the pending case of whether to charge Artur Mas and two councillors for their de facto consultation last November? A legal process that could result in the disqualification of the president-in-office.
The next President of the Generalitat
Another question is who will be the next president of the Generalitat, regardless of the possibility explained in the paragraph above. Junts pel sí will now have to act as referee to balance the distribution of power, from the government to the Parliamentary table or to the spokesperson of the group.
Spain enters this week into a new electoral process leading to the general elections in December. Logic and common sense point to either side, Spain and Catalonia, having to wisely measure any steps they take until the future unfolds and a new Government takes office in Moncloa. After a few months, dialogue will be necessary. Without prior conditions but open to mutual compromises. The pro-independence parties that have absolute majority of MPs “only” have 48% of the votes. Two million votes who will claim revenues from the victory: they were promised independence in Ithaca and, perhaps, now they would not be willing to settle for a constitutional amendment that acknowledged the Catalan identity, improved their financial resources and shielded cultural and linguistic competencies.
The future lies in restraint and dialogue. If the sovereign movement takes the wrong steps, it would lead to frustration, but Spanish parties refusing to see the situation will not extinguish the fire. The Catalan dispute is still alive, even if many believe it was extinguished last night.