Contributed by Jim Hayes
Catalans go to the polls on Thursday (21 December) their time, to vote in an election that will have a major impact on the region’s efforts to break away from Spain.
This is an election that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy imposed as a political strategy to manufacture a political scenario where the Catalan’s movement will be checked. To prepare the ground, the Catalan parliament was dissolved, leaders of the pro-independence parties were arrested and President Carles Piugdemont fled to Belgium, to escape his own capture.
The strategy was devised after the 1 October referendum vote and the subsequent declaration of independence by the regional parliament.
Piugdemont remains the leader of Together for Catalonia (JxCat) and has been campaigning from abroad, using digital media.
Oriol Junqueras, who was vice president of the ousted regional government and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), has been campaigning from his prison cell in Madrid. Despite a serious restriction on the right to have visitors, he was able to have a major recorded statement smuggled out at played to a large rally in Barcelona. There are three other leaders remaining in prison.
The polls are saying that the prime minister’s Popular Party will be lucky to get 6 percent of the vote. Citizens (Caudatans), has stepped into the resultant vacuum, pulled in support from among those disaffected with the two major traditional parties. They may end up being the party with the second highest number of votes. It is seeking to place itself as the party for all those who do not want to break away from Spain.
An opinion poll by the Center for Opinion Studies in Catalonia, found that more than half of Catalans between the ages of 18 and 34 would vote to break away from Spain given a simple choice of yes or no.
All polls are pointing to the likelihood that the pro-independence party the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) will get the largest share of the vote, followed by Caudatans and JxCat in third place.
The Socialist party which has been solidly backing the Popular Party position on independence and the key policies around Spain, has sought to distance itself a little from tis past and recast its image as being more independent and muted its anti-independence message during the election campaign. The polls have suggested that this has not brought about a major change to its fortunes sand the best it can hope for is to hold onto its position at the last election.
It is the anti-austerity party Podemos alliance, known in Catalonia as Together We Can (Catalunya en Comú-Podem), that may end up as the deal maker. Its position is neither for or against independence, and putting the left-right divide in the first place. Based on this, it is seeking an alliance with ERC and the Socialist Party. If this is to materialise and include the Unity Candidacy (CUP), it would create a majority block, which would form the next regional government.
The problem is that it is unlikely to come off. The condition for the ERC is to break its alliance with JxCat, which Podemos sees as right-wing and will not accept. Nor is there much chance of the Socialist Party coming in. It sees Podemos as a rival and its pro-Madrid position would prevent an agreement with the ERC and CUP. They would have to renounce the bid for independence and this is not going to happen.
The polls suggest that the pro-independence block of the ERC, JxCat and the CUP will have the highest number of votes. However, at about 46 percent they will fall short of an absolute majority.
If the Socialist Party throws its lot in with the Rajoy’s PP and Caudatans, together they will trail the pro -independence block.
Catalunya en Comú-Podem, may still end up being left with a choice. Which of the two blocks will it back into becoming the new Catalan government? They have said that they will never give support to the PP or Caudatans. If they hold to this, there is no chance that they will back a pro Madrid block. In the absence of the left alternative, the pressure will be on to give some level of backing to the independence block.
Whichever way it goes, the clear loser will be Madrid. If the polls are right and there is no clear winner, ongoing instability in the political system will continue and the independence momentum is likely to press on. if the independence parties manage to get enough votes to form a government, the pace toward independence is likely to speed up and Madrid forced to talk. Something that has been refused so far and would be difficult to maintain in this scenario.
It is also possible that the outcome will be quite different to what the polls have predicted, and this would be a game changer.