We are just a few hours away from the elections of the Catalonia’s 11th parliament. The vote has already been described as the most important Catalan election since its parliament was first elected in 1980 and for many, it takes the form of a plebiscite on independence.
Catalonia is expecting a possible showdown between the secessionists and central government in Madrid and between Catalans themselves, who are split on independence. Everything leads to think that the 27-S will be historical at least in terms of participation, around the 75% of the electorate is expected to head to the ballot boxes on Sunday, this means almost 14 points above the average in the Catalan regional elections.
Opinion polls by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS).
In fact, support for Catalan independence began growing in 2010, after Spain’s constitutional court ruled that Catalonia’s status and powers could not be considered like those of a nation. In recent years, the conservative, ruling, Partido Popular (PP) has repeatedly blocked demands by Catalonia to hold a referendum on independence, insisting that Spain’s constitution prevents the regions from unilaterally making decisions on sovereignty. But the Catalan government insisted the sovereignty process would continue regardless of Madrid’s position and vowed to push forward with a symbolic vote on independence that took place in November 2014, in defiance of a court order and the central government in Madrid. The current Catalan president Artur Mas established a non-binding vote, held in a modified way in an attempt to skirt legal restrictions.
The majority of pro-independence groups have come together as Junts pel Sí (United for Yes) a single-issue coalition that includes the current Catalan President Artur Mas, who has said he will declare unilateral independence within the 18 following months after elections, if the group wins a majority of seats, even if it has not obtained a majority of the popular vote, as well as other well-known Catalan activists, artists and public figures such as the former Barça coach Pep Guardiola.
And according to the polls, the pro-independence parties could obtain a tight absolute majority in terms of seats, but not in votes in the elections on September 27th. Junts pel Sí, together with the CUP (Candidatura d’Unió Popular), a far-left, anti-capitalist and secessionist party, would obtain between 68 and 69 seats, on the edge of an absolute majority in a House of 135 MPs. However, the estimation of valid votes for both candidates would not reach half plus one and would stand at 49%. Critics on both sides of the issue have argued that the focus on seats, rather than votes, could undermine the movement’s ability to gain legitimacy internationally.
“La via lliure” (The free road to the Catalan Republic): pro-independence demonstration held in Barcelona on September 11th 2015, the national day of Catalonia or “la Diada”.
Junts pel Sí is opposed by another popular front, Catalunya Sí que es Pot (Catalonia Yes We Can), made up of Podemos, the Greens and other leftists who are standing on social issues such as health and housing and are not that keen to enter the debate on independence. The other key runner is Ciutadans, which has already been called the Podemos of the right wing and which is expected to pick up a lot of votes from those who are reluctant of the idea of independence. The PPC (Partit Popular de Catalunya) has never had a huge impact on Catalan politics and Ciutadans is very likely to benefit form a shift in the vote intention of former PP voters.
But the Catalan political map for these upcoming elections is far more complicated. First of all, earlier this year, following the accusations of corruption within the past Catalan governments and because of the divergence in points of view concerning the independence, issue the two parties forming the centre-right wing coalition Convergència i Unió (CIU) decided to split, allowing the president Mas (member of the ideologically pro-independent and liberal faction Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya) to enroll the secessionist project of Junts pel Sí and resulting in the more conservative faction of the former coalition, Unió Democràtica de Catalunya competing on its own the 27S.
Secondly, we need to understand the fact that president Mas is running again for the presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunya but is not the list’s head of the Junts pel Sí coalition (headed by Raul Romeva, former European MP for the Greens) by an express condition established by Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) as members of the separatist coalition. We should ask ourselves if the best president for Catalonia is someone who decides to hide behind a coalition to avoid the confrontation for the accusations of corruption staining his own party, and whom was not been reluctant to come to an agreement with the PP’s central government, in several issues such as the controversial labour market reform of 2012? Well, I don’t think so.
Moreover, as Spain (and Catalonia) emerge from the economic crisis, citizens have blamed the institutions and politicians who brought the country to the critical situation it has been living in for the past years, leading to a widespread demand for democratic regeneration and a new constitution or reform. Here independence in not necessarily involved, many people for whom the minimum floor of understanding was the right to decide and the need for a new agreement with the Spanish central government and whom agreed with the demands of the 15M movement, the Catalan question would represent another event in the story of the demands for more democracy. This demand for change could help parties and coalitions such as Catalunya sí que es pot or Ciutadans (even at a broader national level within the context of the Spanish state) which supports a referendum on Catalan independence, or the Socialists (PSC), who proposes a federal reform and a new agreement on the territorial distribution of Spain.
From left to right: Inés Arrimadas, candidate for Ciutadans, Lluis Rabell, candidate for Catalunya si que es pot, the Socialist (PSC) candidate Miquel Iceta, Raul Romeva, candidate for Junts pel Sí, Xavier Garcia Albiol, the PPC candidate, Ramon Espadaler candidate for UDC and Antoni Baños as the candidate for the CUP.
On the one hand, it is also important to point that, there is little enthusiasm for secession in the capital, Barcelona; few people believe it is a coincidence that Mas called the elections on what is a holiday weekend in Barcelona in the hope that many voters will be out of town and making a low turnout in the capital favour the secessionists.
On the other hand, the central government’s strategy has been the one of looking to the courts to shut down dissent rather than seeking to address the underlying grievances over Catalonia’s language and identity, as well as concerns that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid. Madrid’s intransigence continues to drive many moderates into the independence field as the he central government hasn’t managed to overcome the unproductive dialectic of confrontation and has, instead, adopted a hard-line position through the whole process, unleashing a series of warnings to battle the push for independence, that has already been described by it’s opponents as the “strategy of fear”.
Spain’s central bank said secession would risk exclusion from the Eurozone, while the country’s main banks, cautioned that independence could undermine financial stability. The Spanish government argued that if Catalans broke off from Spain it would cost them their Spanish nationality and therefore European citizenship. European leaders such as the British prime minister David Cameron and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel expressed their support for the integrity of Spain.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalan president Artur Mas.
What is sure is that regardless of the outcome, the elections will mark a defining moment for the region. The scenery seems fairly uncertain but one thing is clear, whatever happens on the 27th of September, the social and political situation in Catalonia will be changed forever, weather it is for the better or for the worst!
Cristina Català, Graduate of the School of Democracy 2015.