Contributed by Joe Montero
Early exit polls were already giving the impression that the pro-independence parties were going to win, increasing their previous majority and as the votes were counted, the prediction tuned out to be true.
The polls had predicted a closer context. The pro-independence parties won 66 seats and are in position to form the next regional government.
Carles Puigdemont, the former president in exile in Belgium and leader of the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT). and member of the Together for Yes (UPyD) alliance called the victory “a slap in the face” for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, adding that “the Spanish state has been defeated.
“Europe must take note that Rajoy’s solution doesn’t work”.
“All those in Europe who have supported Rajoy’s position, even with their silence, should take notice. Catalonia must decide its future”.
The other member of the alliance the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), led by also polled well.
The third pro-independence party, the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) lost seats and went down from 10 to 4. The leadership of both the ERC and CUP are imprisoned in Madrid and this hampered their capacity to campaign.
Given the circumstances of a process stacked against them, the result is remarkable. Together, the pro-independence parties have won 70 seats.
Even before the voting started the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave his opponents a warning, and this was that any new government must comply “with the law or it knows what will happen”. This refers to the use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which was used to dismiss the previous regional government, charge and imprison its representatives. His signalling of his intention to continue the same track has been widely interpreted as an attempt to bully Catalans into submission.
This was obviously not enough to win the day for Madrid. Mariano Rajoy and his government are left in a dilemma. Either they start to talk with the new regional government, without threats and in good faith, about the devolution of power, or continue with a political crisis that must chip away at its own foundations.
Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) lost 8 seats and was left with just 4 and barely 1 percent of the vote. Most of the exodus went to Citizens (Ciutadans), which gained 7 of them. They also had the advantage of solid support from the wealthy and massive wall to wall media promotion. They ended with 36 seats. More than any other party, but well short of enough to form a government. Ciutadens is often described as right of centre, but is actually considerably more radical than this.
The other major horse in the race is the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC), which held its position and took 17 seats, one more than they started with, despite it also being widely promoted in the media.
Together the PP, Ciudatens and the PSUC, which maker up the pro-Madrid block, one only 52 seats. They cannot form the new government.
The anti-austerity and Podemos aligned Catalonia in Common (CatComú–Podem) was caught in the squeeze and lost 3 of its seats to retain 8.
For Mariano Rajoy and his government, clutching onto the constitution will not ultimately win the day. They have lost any pretence to the moral ground and are now faced with the prospect of having to talk. They may still not do this and choose to go down the road on ongoing confrontation and instability. They can sack the new Catalan government. What then? Impose permanent direct rule? They can do this, but they should have worked out by now that denial and big brother methods do not make their problem go away.
If the constitution is a block, it can be changed. It was done once, to provide the regions with a small degree of autonomy. The constitution can be changed again. The alternative is to remain locked into the fascist past of the Franco era. The constitution was framed under this regime and it does not meet the needs of today.
Going down this path, will not only ultimately undermine the PP government in the eyes of Spaniards. It will reveal that the political system that they are operating under is inherently undemocratic and must be changed.
It’s a dilemma for Europe as well. To date, its handling of the crisis on its turf has been to ignore, or placate Madrid. There are reasons. There are other independence movement in the continent and the prospect of Catalan independence could serve as an example. Spain is a major economy of the European union and economic self-interest plays a very important role.
Will the status quo be able to continue now?