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Catalan election results: pro-independence parties win narrow majority

Regional president Artur Mas declares victory in Sunday's Catalan elections.(Reuters/Sergio Pérez)
Regional president Artur Mas declares victory in Sunday’s Catalan elections.(Reuters/Sergio Pérez)

There’s no doubt that the pro-independence Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition won a resounding victory in Sunday’s regional elections in Catalonia. With nearly 40% of the vote, it is by far the largest force in Catalonia’s regional government and with the support of the ardently pro-independence, hard-left Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, Popular Unity Candidacy), it is likely to form a government that will carry forward the cause of Catalan independence over the next 18 months. Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

For the first time in Catalan history, an explicitly pro-independence coalition, running expressly on the campaign pledge to enact an 18-month process toward declaring independence, will control the Generalitat, the Catalan government.


But that’s essentially where the good news ends for Catalonia’s independence movement, which now faces the real prospect of hubris and overreach in the days and weeks ahead.

A democratic deficit

The first difficulty is that, though pro-independence parties now control the Catalan parliament, those parties did not, as a technical matter, win a majority of votes in the election. Pro-independence parties together won around 47.9% of the vote, just shy of an outright majority, depriving the pro-independence camp of an important moral victory in its quest. It’s difficult to claim that your movement commands democratic support when a majority of voters, in an election with nearly 77.5% turnout, supported anti-independence parties.

catalonia 2015

It’s hard to compare the 2015 result against the 2012 result because that’s something of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But in the broadest sense, the parties supporting independence (or at least sympathetic to the cause of Catalan nationalism) won 74 seats in the Catalan parliament. That’s actually two more seats than the pro-independence parties won in the 2015 vote.

Continue reading Catalan election results: pro-independence parties win narrow majority

Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

diadaPhoto credit to Diario de Navarra.

If you thought that the Scottish independence referendum was a  divisive matter, just wait another three weeks.Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

Even though Catalunya’s regional president Artur Mas officially cancelled a scheduled referendum on Catalan independence originally scheduled for November 9, diffusing a constitutional crisis with the national Spanish government, Mas announced that Catalans will instead have the option to participate in a non-binding ‘consultation.’

From referendum to ‘consultation’


In substance, the informal ‘consultation’ isn’t incredibly different than the formal vote that Mas (pictured above) and the Catalan regional parliament initially scheduled, given that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy denounced the vote and questioned the ability of Mas or a majority of the Catalan parliament to call a referendum legally. Spain’s constitutional court ruled the referendum unconstitutional at the end of September, and Mas originally declared that the vote would go forward.

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RELATED: In refusing Catalan vote,
Rajoy risks isolating himself and Spain’s future

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Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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Mas’s admission this week that the vote will be informal and non-binding reduces many of the tensions with Madrid, though the original vote wasn’t entirely binding, either. But his announcement may dampen his credibility with pro-independence Catalans (critics took to Twitter to declare it was ‘game over’ for Mas) and force the third regional election in four years.

Nevertheless, the referendum will still ask Catalan voters the same two questions as before:

Do you want Catalonia to be a state?

If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?

No matter what happened on November 9, no one believed that the issue of Catalan sovereignty would be definitively settled anytime soon.  Continue reading Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

In refusing Catalan vote, Rajoy risks isolating himself and Spain’s future

rajoy isolated

It’s not like Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy didn’t have any warning.cataloniaSpain_Flag_Icon

Catalan regional president Artur Mas called early regional elections for November 2012 for the express purpose of winning a mandate behind the call for greater autonomy and/or independence for Catalunya.  That didn’t work out so incredibly well for Mas and his autonomist center-right Convergència i Unió (CiU, Convergence and Union), which lost 12 seats in the 135-member Catalan parliament, and was forced to form a unity government with the pro-independence, leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Republican Left of Catalunya).  Nonetheless, the election largely ratified the strength of the Catalan separatists, who control 87 seats to just 48 for Catalunya’s federalist parties. catalanmap

Three months ago, on September 11 — upon the celebration of Catalan national day — nearly 400,000 Catalan citizens formed a human chain stretching from the Pyrenees to the coast to emphasize just how fervently they support their right to self-determination.

Rajoy, much to his discredit, has ignored those Catalans, and Mas’s government has now set November 9, 2014 as the date for a referendum on Catalan independence — with or without the Spanish federal government’s blessing — after a vote last Thursday in the Catalan parliament that enjoyed the universal support of Mas’s Convergence and Union, the Republic Left and the Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV, Initiative for Catalonia Greens).  Rajoy (pictured above) and his justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón (pictured below) have made clear that not only is a referendum unacceptable under the Spanish constitution, but that they won’t be coerced into negotiating with Mas over devolving greater power (and funds) back to Catalunya, one of the wealthiest regions in Spain.  With over 7.5 million people, the region account for one-fifth of Spain’s economic output.


If the vote actually goes ahead next November (and there’s some reason to believe that Mas is bluffing), it could constitute the most severe constitutional crisis since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 1970s.

To some degree, it’s easy to sympathize with Rajoy.  Though he took office just over two years ago when the center-right Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party) ousted the center-left government headed by José Luis Zapatero and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) in November 2011, Rajoy’s popularity has plummeted as he’s pushed Spain through higher taxes and budget cuts.  That fiscal adjustment is plausibly both the cause and effect of a cycle of economic depression that’s left Spain reeling, including an unemployment rate of 26.6% that may be peaking only after five years of GDP contraction.  Spanish finances remain in tatters, despite the budgetary efforts of both the Zapatero and Rajoy governments, and Rajoy simply can’t afford to send more euros to Barcelona.  It’s not difficult to see the slippery slope that would begin once Rajoy starts negotiating with Rajoy over Spanish federalism.  An equally pro-autonomy regional government in Euskadi (Basque Country), which is also wealthier than the Spanish average, will be sure to follow with their own demands.  Other regions, like Galicia and Andalusia, the latter one of Europe’s most economically forlorn, might also make demands for stimulus.

It’s equally easy to see the naked political game that Mas is playing.  You need only look to the way that the referendum will be structured — Catalans will first be asked, ‘Do you want Catalonia to be a state?’ Those who agree with the first question will subsequently be asked, ‘Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?’  The vote will be an easy way for Catalans to register their disapproval with Madrid without taking the kind of steps that could truly rupture Catalunya from Spain and that could leave Catalunya as an independent country outside the European Union (if only temporarily).  Mas is clearly using the referendum as a game to strengthen his hand vis-à-vis negotiations with Rajoy and, perhaps, to maximize his own standing within the Catalan electorate.  Some relatively moderate voices within the CiU coalition have even said that the referendum should only be held if it’s ultimately deemed ‘legal’ by Madrid.  The shell game of posing two questions to determine whether Catalunya should be a state or an independent state conveniently blurs the line of independence — it’s such a cynical ploy that it’s hard to take Mas seriously as a statesman, despite the legitimate sentiment of millions of pro-independence Catalans.

But Mas can get away with such demagoguery largely because of Rajoy’s intransigence.   Continue reading In refusing Catalan vote, Rajoy risks isolating himself and Spain’s future

Mas push for CiU dominance — and Catalan independence — backfires


When Artur Mas (pictured abovecalled early elections in late September, there was every reason to believe he would improve the position of his autonomist, center-right party, Convergència i Unió (CiU, Convergence and Union), in the wake of protests in Barcelona and throughout Catalunya (specifically on Sept. 11, a nationalist holiday in Catalunya) in favor of greater independence from Spain’s beleaguered federal government. 

Even as recently as a month ago, it seemed that CiU was poised to gain enough seats to take an absolute majority in the 135-member Catalan parliament (the Parlament de Catalunya).

Instead, Mas’s party lost 12 seats and will fall to just 50 seats in the Catalan parliament.  The CiU has long been Catalunya’s dominant party, and it controlled Catalunya’s regional parliament from 1980 until 2003 — it has won the largest share of seats in every regional election since Spain’s return to democracy, and that was always unlikely to change after Sunday’s election.  Moreover, the result leaves the CiU in a stronger position than after the 2003 and 2006 elections, when a resurgent federalist, center-left Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC, Socialists’ Party of Catalunya) won enough seats to lead governing coalitions in the regional government.

All the same, Mas’s gambit — hopping on the bandwagon of wide Catalan discontent by wrapping himself in the cause of Catalan independence — has clearly backfired, and Mas will have fallen back from a near-absolute majority status two years sooner than necessary.

The CiU won just 30.68% of the vote on Sunday, a drop of 7.75% from the 2010 election that returned the CiU to power.

Meanwhile, the PSC won 14.43% and just 20 seats — eight fewer than its historically poor result in 2010.

The ‘winner’ of the election in relative terms is clearly the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Republican Left of Catalunya) — a leftist party in favor of Catalan independence, which won 13.68% and 21 seats, giving it the second-largest number of seats in the parliament (although just barely).  The CiU will most likely seek a governing coalition with the ERC for a broad separatist coalition.  Although the ERC joined in a governing coalition with the PSC from 2003 to 2010, its current leader since 2011, Oriol Junqueras, has moderated the ERC’s sometimes-radical leftist tone, while pulling the ERC toward a more pro-independence line.

Both moves make it a likelier coalition partner for the CiU, and Junqueras looks set to become the second-most important politician in Catalunya after Mas.  The ERC has indicated, however, that it will seek some moderation of the CiU’s support for austerity policies in exchange for joining any coalition.  If negotiations fail with the ERC, however, the CiU might also seek a coalition with the PSC or other parties.

The Partit Popular de Catalunya (PPC, People’s Party of Catalunya) — the local variant of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party) won 12.99% and gained one seat for a total of 19.

The Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds – Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (ICV-EUiA), a green/leftist coalition, won 9.89% and 13 seats, while Ciutadans – Partit de la Ciutadania (C’s, Citizens — Party of the Citizenry), a center-left, federalist and euroskeptic Catalan party, won 7.58% and nine seats.  A group of radical leftists, the Candidatures d’Unitat Popular (CUP — Popular Unity Candidates), broke through for the first time at the regional level with 3.48% and three seats.

To understand Sunday’s vote, it’s helpful to look at the result on three axes:

  • On the axis of ‘federalist’ parties (PSC, PPC and Ciutadans) versus autonomist and pro-independence parties (everyone else), the ‘federalists’ won 48 seats to 87 seats for the ‘separatists.’  If you break down the 2010 result, this is a one-seat ‘gain’ for ‘separatists.’ So the Catalan parliament will actually remain remarkably stable in terms of the balance of power on the separatist axis.
  • On the axis of center-right parties (CiU and PPC) versus leftist parties of all stripes, it’s clear that Sunday was a win for the broad ‘left’: the center-right parties, together, won 80 seats in 2010 versus just 55 for leftist parties; in 2012, the broad ‘right’ will control just 69 seats to 66 seats for the broad ‘left.’
  • But the real story of the election comes when you look at the axis of parties that are ‘tainted’ with having supported austerity policies — that includes not just the PPC and CiU, but also the PSC, which controlled Catalunya’s fiscal policy through 2010 and is the local arm of the national center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) that governed Spain until December 2011 and implemented the first of Spain’s federal austerity policies.  Those three parties’ share of the Catalan parliament’s seats dropped from 108 to 89 on Sunday, while the other parties — all of which are anti-austerity and/or protest parties of some degree — surged from 27 seats to 46 seats.

Taken together, the result indicates that Catalans haven’t necessarily reached a point of historically high support for independence as much as they, like most electorates throughout Europe in the past three years, remain weary of recession and unemployment, coupled simultaneously with budget cuts and tax increases.

At the end of the day, when you get past all of the sturm und drang about Catalan independence leading up to the election, the Catalan result fits fairly neatly within the context of the wider eurozone debate (which Edward Hugh noted back in October).  I’ll have some further thoughts later today or tomorrow in a separate post on what the result means for ‘Catalan independence’ as such.  Continue reading Mas push for CiU dominance — and Catalan independence — backfires

Spanish conservatives take Galicia; Basque nationalists win Euskadi

Sunday’s regional elections in Galicia and Euskadi (i.e., the Basque Country) have given just about everyone in Spanish politics something to be happy about.

In Galicia, the ruling center-right Partido Popular de Galicia (PPdeG, People’s Party of Galicia) of Galician president  Alberto Núñez Feijóo (pictured above, top right), the local branch of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party), extended its majority in the 75-member Parlamento de Galicia from 38 to 41 after winning 45.72% of the vote.

In Euskadi, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV, EAJ, the Basque Nationalist Party or, in Basque, the Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea) emerged with the largest number of seats in the Eusko Legebiltzarra (Basque parliament), with 27 seats on 34.64% of the vote.  Like Galicia, Euskadi’s unicameral parliament has 75 members.

As such, the PNV fended off a strong challenge from a more radical leftist and more firmly pro-independence coalition of Basque nationalists — the contest was widely seen as a fight between the more centrist PNV and the coalition of the ezker abertzalea (‘patriotic left’) formed this year, the Euskal Herria Bildu (EHB).

 The PNV, however, is now likely to form a government and its leader, Íñigo Urkullu (pictured above, bottom), is very likely to become lehendakari (president) of Euskadi.  Urkullu is the former PNV leader in Biscay, a stronghold for the party, and he became party leader in 2008.  The likely return of the PNV to government will put it back in power after only its first stint in opposition in the past 30 years.

So what do Sunday’s regional elections means more widely for Spain?

The result will give some comfort to Rajoy (pictured above, top left), who hails from Galicia, a center-right heartland within Spain.  Rajoy once served in Galicia’s parliament, and Rajoy and his party will be delighted to see Feijóo’s local Galician allies extend their majority.  After extending the center-right majority in Galicia and winning a plurality, if not an absolute majority, of seats in the March 2012 regional elections in the center-left stronghold of Andalucía, Spain’s most populous region (despite remaining in the opposition), Rajoy can take respite that his party retains some support throughout the country, which is suffering its fourth year of consecutive economic malaise and unemployment that’s perhaps the highest in Europe at just over 25%.

But the result will also embolden nationalist movements throughout Spain, especially Catalunya, where the separatist movement has taken an increasingly popular turn in the past couple of months.  Catalan president Artur Mas called snap elections early last month, and Mas is engaged in a high-profile political fight over regionalism with Rajoy — Catalunya votes on November 25.  Urkullu, who called for calm following the election, has been vague about his plans for the region, and he has not said whether he intends to seek full independence for Euskadi or merely greater regional autonomy.  But he is seen as the more moderate of the two Basque nationalist party leaders in a region where the armed separatist group, the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), signed a ceasefire just one year ago.

The result will also provide some small amount of delight for the radical left, which can point to gains in both regions.

Continue reading Spanish conservatives take Galicia; Basque nationalists win Euskadi

Six ways in which Sunday’s Galician and Basque elections will affect the Rajoy government

Just over 10% of Spain’s population will vote in regional elections this weekend in two key regions, Galicia and Euskadi (the Basque Country), but the elections will play a role in shaping the national politics that affect the remaining 90% of Spain at what’s an especially precarious time for the government of center-right prime minister Mariano Rajoy (pictured above with Galician president Alberto Núñez Feijóo).

Although Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) only recently came to power in November 2011, after the eight-year government of prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Rajoy has faced an unenviably difficult climate.  Spain’s economy is contracting this year after two years of tepid growth under 1%, which followed a contraction in 2008-09.  Unemployment is now just over 25%, among the highest in the eurozone.

Despite the tough economic conditions, Zapatero’s government, and now Rajoy’s government, have been relentless in slashing the Spanish budget.  Although Spain ran a fairly tight fiscal policy throughout the 2000s, the drop in tax revenue has resulted in an exploding budget deficit, which Rajoy hopes to reduce to just 6.3% of GDP this year (and 4.5% next year and 3% in 2014), in order to prevent yields on Spanish debt from rising to dangerous levels.

In less than a year, Rajoy has passed at least four different budget cut packages, including a raise in the Spanish income tax rate, a 3% hike in the Spanish value-added tax from 18% to 21%, the elimination of tax breaks for home owners and spending cuts for education and health care.  Furthermore, each of Spain’s regions are responsible for cutting their own budgets to just 1.5% of GDP.

Although Rajoy campaigned on a promise not to seek any bailouts from the European Union, like Greece has done, everyone in the EU believes it’s only a matter of time before Rajoy requests one — the European Central Bank has already provided emergency funding to prop up Bankia and other beleaguered Spanish banks in June.  Unlike with Greece, however, the most likely path for a Spanish bailout would be through a temporary credit line through the European Stability Mechanism, triggering the purchase of Spanish debt by the European Central Bank.

So on Sunday, when election results roll in from Galicia and Euskadi, here are six items to consider about how the results could affect the Rajoy government and Spain’s national politics: Continue reading Six ways in which Sunday’s Galician and Basque elections will affect the Rajoy government

Mas calls early elections in November for Catalunya amid growing calls for independence

Artur Mas, the president of Catalunya (pictured above), called early regional elections yesterday, which are set for November 25, and which will now follow two other key regional elections in October — in the other two ‘nationalities’ of Spain, the Basque Country and Galicia.

The decision brings to the forefront of Spanish politics the question of Catalan independence during a period in which Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy is trying to balance increasingly harsh budget cuts against an economy mired in recession and 25% unemployment, trying to keep yields on Spanish debt from climbing too high (which surpassed 6% again this week) while also keeping his pledge never to seek a bailout from the European Union (a pledge that Rajoy seems increasingly unlikely to keep).

Mas’s decision amounts to the latest ploy in a game of chicken between Madrid and Barcelona, despite the fact that it’s a dangerous time for Spain (and for the eurozone) for either to be playing any such game.  After a month in which the eurozone seemed largely on the right track — a pro-European election result in the Netherlands, the European Central Bank’s decision to buy eurozone debt, the German constitutional court’s decision to endorse the European Stability Mechanism and optimism on Greece’s continued membership in the eurozone — a Catalan/Spanish showdown could spook bondholders into another round of eurocrisis.

The elections come more than a year early — elections were not due until November 2013 — and they come after contentious negotiations between Mas and Rajoy over a bailout for Catalunya.  At a time when many regional governments are struggling, Mas’s regional government is seeking a rebate of up to €5 million for Catalunya and a ‘fiscal pact’ under which Catalunya could levy its own revenues to be used solely in Catalunya.  This comes in the shadows of strident pro-independence sentiment, with up to 2 million Catalans participating in pro-independence marches (pictured above) on September 11 earlier this month (that’s Catalan’s national day).

If Mas’s Convergència i Unió (CiU, Convergence and Union), a center-right and autonomist party, wins the election on the strength of a pro-independence wave, and if it garners an absolute majority in the 135-member Catalan parliament (the Parlament de Catalunya), Mas will have more leverage with Rajoy’s national government — and it seems likely that Mas and other Catalan nationalist parties will champion a referendum on either greater Catalan autonomy, a full declaration of Catalan nationhood or actual Catalan independence from Spain.  Some polls now show over 50% of Catalans support independence, which has risen dramatically during the Spanish financial crisis of the past three years — just as Germans balk at sending money to shore up Greek and Portuguese (and Spanish!) finances, Catalans balk at shoring up broader Spanish finances.

If he wins, though, the danger is that Mas will become the unlikely champion of an independence movement that is moving faster than he might otherwise have liked.  The snap elections only risk fanning the flames of Catalan independence further out of control of Mas, Rajoy or anyone in Spanish or Catalan politics.

Rajoy, who certainly has enough headaches of his own, has taken a largely conciliatory public stance, even as he looks for ways to isolate Mas at the federal level — in the broad fight between Mas and Rajoy over concessions to Catalunya, Rajoy has the support of his own party, the center-right Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party) and the opposition leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the leader of the national center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), as well as many of the regional presidents, who blanche at Catalunya getting a better deal than their regions.

Catalunya, the second-most populous region in Spain, with 7.5 million people and one of three ‘nationality’ regions (like the Basque Country and Galicia), has as strong a regional identity as the Basque Country — both have their own language and their own culture that were subdued during the Franco era.  The current surge in support for Catalan independence comes from the view that Catalunya, as Spain’s wealthiest — and most indebted — region, has subsidized other (read: lazier) regions that have mired Spain in its current austerity/recession trap, and that money transferred from Catalunya to the federal budget is money that could be better spent shoring up the Catalan budget.

Essentially, Catalan politics since the end of the Franco era has been traditionally a battle between two major parties:

Mas’s CiU (technically it is a federation of two similar parties) essentially ran Catalunya from 1980 until 2003 under the leadership of Catalan president Jordi Pujol. Although it technically won a plurality of seats in the 2003 and 2006 elections under Mas’s leadership, it won nearly an absolute majority in 2010, with 38.5% of the vote and fully 62 seats, just six seats short of such a majority.

The Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC, Socialists’ Party of Catalunya) is the major center-left party in Catalunya, but remains much more federal in nature — it’s the Catalan variant of the national PSOE.  It controlled Catalunya’s government from 2003 to 2010 in coalition with two smaller parties.  It lost a significant number of seats in the prior 2010 election and holds 28 seats currently after receiving just 18% of the vote.

In response to Mas’s latest push, the PSC has called for a federal system, like in Germany (a call that has been met with something far less than enthusiasm from Rajoy’s government).

Meanwhile, five smaller parties also hold seats in the current Catalan parliament and will vie for support in the November elections: Continue reading Mas calls early elections in November for Catalunya amid growing calls for independence