Electoral marathon

Voters will be called to the ballot box three times in under a month, with a general election followed by local and European elections, all against the backdrop of the ongoing trial of independence leaders in Spain’s Supreme Court

The polls are right now smiling on Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party It’s not clear if PSOE will be able to form a viable government European poll will be a thermometer for the Catalan situation Barcelona is key for the aims of the independence movement
PP and Cs have found common ground with the far-right Can independence parties keep their current seats in Congress? What’s clear is there will be no united independence candidacy ERC insists on the need to keep working towards a unified strategy

The political agenda for spring 2019 promises to be hectic. Elections will be coming thick and fast and will touch the lives of many people, for good or for bad. In a space of just 28 days, voters in Catalonia will be called to the ballot box on three separate occasions. The three elections are of differing importance, but will all no doubt be significant for Catalonia’s future. Despite their varying territorial reach, the three polls will affect all sectors of society – from monarchist to republican, unionist to pro-independence – all the time the trial of Catalan independence leaders in Spain’s Supreme Court running in the background.

The electoral period opens on April 28 with the general election called by the current Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. His inability to gather enough backing in parliament to pass his government’s budget after the pro-independence parties refused to lend him their support forced Sánchez to turn to the ballot box.

At least that is one reading of his decision, as the polls are right now smiling on Sánchez’s Socialist party, predicting an electoral victory for them, with the latest barometer from the CIS research institute giving them 33% of the vote, double that of their closest rival, the conservative PP party. What’s more, with the Cs party moving further to the right, and in some aspects the far-right, a gap has been left in the centre-left that Sánchez’s PSOE party could take advantage of.

Yet one unknown remains for Sánchez. Even if PSOE do win the election it is far from clear whether it will then be able to gather enough support to form a viable government. Cs’ stated refusal to come to any agreements with the Socialists has created two large blocs. PP and Cs have already shown that they have little problem in finding common ground with the far-right Vox party.

However, if the right-wing parties do not find common ground (dividing the vote means that the Law of D’Hondt would favour PSOE), it could clear the way for Sánchez to retake his post. The Socialists are looking to only depend on the votes of the Podemos party at most. Both the spokesperson of the pro-independence ERC party, Sergi Sabrià, and the secretary of the left-wing Catalunya en Comú party, Susanna Segovia, see an agreement with PSOE and Cs as possible, even if the latter has already publicly ruled out making Sánchez prime minister. “They also said they would not make Rajoy prime minister,” Segovia points out. Both see a good result for Catalonia’s progressive parties as essential in stopping the right and far-right in the Spanish parliament.

What is also unknown is whether the pro-independence parties will keep their current seats in the Congress and, if so, how they might use their influence in the chamber, especially should the Supreme Court convict the independence leaders on trial. All of the pro-independence parties hope for a decisive role in Congress, and with this in mind they have gone all out for the election. ERC has announced that its president, Oriol Junqueras, will be its main candidate for the general election, while the PDeCAT party will run under the Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) ticket, with Jordi Sànchez as its main candidate.

What does seem clear is that there will be no united pro-independence candidacy, despite the current climate of repression and opposition. In March, the secretary general of La Crida Nacional per la República, Toni Morral, announced as much after ERC ruled out such a move, and La Crida itself will not put forward any candidates “so as not to further fragment the pro-independence movement,” in Morral’s words.

As for the far-left pro-independence CUP party, which does not generally favour united tickets, when consulting its membership in March, they voted not to break precedent and put forward candidates in the general election.

Second trip to the polls

Whatever the result on April 28, everything points to there being no new Spanish government before the local elections on May 26. Less than a month after the general election, voters will again be called to the ballot boxes for local and European elections, to be held on the same Sunday. Meanwhile, some autonomous regions in Spain will also hold regional elections on that same day.

The call for a united pro-independence candidacy also seems unlikely on a European level. While La Crida says it has still not given up hope of the pro-independence parties coming together on a single ticket, parties like ERC are far from convinced. Nevertheless, ERC spokesperson Sergi Sabrià insists on the need to keep working towards a unified strategy shared between all of the pro-independence parties, whatever election they may be contesting.

The European election is seen as no less important for Catalonia, as it is considered an opportunity to present the pro-independence message to the wider world. The ERC party will contest the elections on the same ticket as the Basque EH Bildu coalition and the Galician Nationalist Bloc, with Oriol Junqueras topping the list and former foreign minister Raül Romeva’s wife, Diana Riba, as his number two. Falling as it did in 1987 and 1999 on the same day as the local elections, the European poll will act as a thermometer for the Catalan situation. EU voters will choose 705 MEPs (there are currently 751, but Brexit means that number is set to drop), with Spain as a whole choosing 59 representatives, five more than in 2014.

As for the local elections, pro-independence candidates will only stand on the same ticket in very specific cases. Argentona, in Maresme, is one example, where local branches of the CUP, ICV, ERC and PDeCAT parties have decided to stand together on the same ticket.

In Barcelona, control of which is key for the aims of the independence movement, the call by JxCat to run with ERC has fallen on deaf ears, with the republican party refusing to run on a joint pro-independence ticket from the outset. The furthest that ERC’s candidate for Barcelona mayor, Ernest Maragall, has been willing to go is to hint at a possible commitment before the elections to a future “republican union”. The far-left CUP, meanwhile, has made it clear that it will not stand anywhere with Junts per Catalunya, which it considers the inheritor of the now defunct centre-right Convergència party. Badalona is another exception, where the Guanyem Badalona en Comú platform (which includes CUP) will stand with ERC. They are also hoping to bring the Comuns and Podem parties on board.

Parties at full blast

Faced with the upcoming electoral marathon, the political parties have put their entire electoral machinery at work. The secretary general of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), Salvador Illa, insists that all three elections “are extremely important for the Socialists,” and where the general election is concerned, “it is a choice between two types of Spain: the one we represent, which is progressive and focused on social policy, and the most useful for Catalonia, or the Spain of the three right-wing parties.” Minister Meritxell Batet will head the party’s ticket for Barcelona, and the Socialists will focus efforts during the campaign on stressing that “there are only these two paths.” As for the European elections, Illa says their relevance is the opportunity to put the brakes on the European right and he highlights the work of MEP Javi López, who is hoping for re-election.

Where the local elections are concerned, the Socialists feel more at home: “They are the elections where we feel most comfortable, as the PSC is the party of local authorities,” says the secretary general. In the current tense climate, the PSC sees itself as the party most capable of “offering a solid project, which favours stability and coexistence, which respects all ideas, and which works for social policies and against austerity cuts.” In the local sphere, the Socialists have shown that they have enough flexibility to look both right and left when it comes to reaching post-electoral agreements, although they do have a limit: “Obviously, there can be no alliances with the [far-right] Vox party,” says Illa. The goal of the Socialists will be to “seek stable governments, which are those that best favour the municipalities.” So far, the Socialists have announced 230 local candidates and will choose more in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the En Comú Podem party faces the general election on April 28 with the challenge of repeating its electoral victories in the 2015 and 2016 elections. However, the context then was very different to what it is now, something that the Catalunya en Comú organisation’s secretary, Susanna Segovia, insists will not hold the party back: “We are going to try to win, because both Catalonia and Spain need courageous governments that favour dialogue as the only way to resolve the Catalan conflict,” she says. Moreover, Segovia sees these elections as “fundamental because transformational policies for society need governments that choose to prioritise social spending and that focus on people.” The party has yet to finish drawing up its final list of candidates, but Barcelona deputy mayor, Jaume Asens, has already put himself forward to head a list that will also include as his number two the current MP in Congress, Aina Vidal, as well as Gerardo Pisarello, Joan Mena and Maria Freixenet.

In reference to the Catalan conflict and the situation of the jailed leaders, Segovia defends the role her party has played to help them in Europe. “Our MEP, Ernest Urtasun, is the one who has managed to bring about the most shows of support for the prisoners,” she says. The European elections, she adds, “are an opportunity to achieve a very clear connection between local councils, states and the European Parliament.” In the local sphere, Segovia says the elections are “key to be able to continue the project of transformation that puts social rights at the centre.” It is a strategy, in the words of Catalunya en Comú’s secretary, that is “compatible with the fact of condemning repression.” The party will seek alliances with other left-wing parties, and has no understanding with the right that would make any agreements feasible, and not even with Junts per Catalunya: “We seriously doubt we share the same vision for cities, for example, or fostering public participation,” she adds.

CUP not running

At one point it seemed as if CUP might break with party tradition and put forward candidates for the general election, when in the past it has always chosen to stay out of Spanish politics to focus on local and regional ones. However, after consulting its membership, the far-left party voted to once again sit out the election. The party has also ruled out putting forward candidates for the European election.

In the local sphere, CUP has looked to make alliances with other popular unity movements. However, each municipality is its own world and CUP respects the decisions made by the local party assembly of each municipality, whether it be the formula they choose to contend the election or the agreements between parties made after it. CUP’s aspiration is to build on its local representation, “breaking with the autonomous regional legacy that still continues,” according to Maria Ballester. Putting people and social policies at the heart of its platform, along with radical transparency in its management and prioritising public participation is at the heart of the party’s manifesto. The CUP representative argues that the state repression affecting the public “can be confronted from the municipalities” and points out that while CUP candidates stand for institutional posts, the party “will always have one foot on the streets.”

For its part, ERC is hoping that the upcoming local election will become a turning point for a party that historically has never done very well in the local sphere. “We have been working for years, and continue to work, to change this,” says Sabrià, who insists: “Esquerra will be able to seek channels of understanding with those groups with whom we share social and national coherence, but always respecting the reality of each municipality.”



La Crida’s candidates Elections and the trial

La Crida Nacional per la República, the movement set up by Carles Puigdemont, Quim Torra and Jordi Sànchez, was willing to put candidates forward until the ERC party ruled out a united pro-independence ticket. Yet La Crida members are free to stand as part of other candidacies. It is unlikely La Crida will campaign for any party or ticket, which is against the spirit of the movement. Howeve r, it is feasible it will contribute proposals to other parties.

The trial of Catalan leaders is likely to still be going on when the general election takes place. For the moment, the defendants can stand as candidates, as some of them have announced they will, but that could change if they are suspended depending on the verdict. Should they be elected, they will have to accept their posts in person, which depends on the judge overseeing the prison they are in.

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