Boost for pro-independence camp

With ERC winning a record 22 seats in the Spanish parliament and JxCat’s seven seats, the parties in favour of a republic are well-placed to put pressure on Pedro Sánchez to engage in talks with Catalonia

it is no foregone conclusion that PSOE will have to depend on the pro-independence parties, as it could ally with the Ciudadanos party AS EN COMÚ PODEM IS IN FAVOUR OF A SELF-DETERMINATION REFERENDUM IN CATALONIA, THE NUMBER OF SEATS NOW BACKING SUCH A VOTE HAS RISEN TO 29

The independence movement received a boost in the Spanish general election on April 28, the Esquerra Republicana party (ERC) winning for the first time in Catalonia with a record number of over a million votes. That meant the party headed by former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras, currently on trial in the Supreme Court, went from having nine to 15 seats in the Spanish parliament.

“It’s time to begin talks to find a political solution,” said Catalan vice president and ERC member, Pere Aragonès, in reference to Catalonia’s political conflict.

Along with the seven seats (one less) won by the Junts per Catalunya party (JxCat), led by the also jailed Jordi Sànchez, the number of seats held by pro-independence MPs in Madrid has risen from 17 to 22. Those seats could well turn out to be decisive when Pedro Sánchez, whose Socialist party (PSOE) won the election with 123 seats, begins looking for support in the chamber so as to be able to gather the 176 votes he needs to be able to form a working government and remain as Spanish prime minister.

That Sánchez will have to seek support is not in question, as even with the 42 seats of Pablo Iglesias’ leftwing Podemos party, the Socialists do not reach the threshold for a majority in the chamber. Yet, it is no foregone conclusion that PSOE will have to depend on the votes of the pro-independence parties, as there is another option, and that is to ally with the unionist Ciudadanos party (Cs), which saw its number of seats rise from 37 to 52.

However, the centre-right party led by Albert Rivera ran a campaign targeting Sánchez and denying the possibility of such an alliance. Yet, Cs and the Socialists do share some common ground in that both parties are set against a binding self-determination referendum in Catalonia, something the pro-independence parties will certainly demand in return for their support.

Nor do Socialist supporters favour an agreement with Cs, and when Sánchez arrived to celebrate his party’s victory on election night, it was to cries of “Not with Rivera!” Another possibility is for PSOE to do a deal with the Basque parties and those from the Canary Islands.

Change in Catalonia

Meanwhile, among the parties from Catalonia, there were further changes, with the Catalan Socialist party (PSC) gaining five extra seats to give it a total of 12 in the chamber, with the leftwing En Comú Podem alliance (ECP) going the other way and losing five seats to drop to seven. However, as ECP is in favour of a self-determination referendum in Catalonia, the number of votes calling for such a vote rises to 29, with Iglesias also on record as saying Catalans should have the right to decide their future.

Whatever might happen on that score, and whether the Socialists’ need for support at least leads to talks and a calming of political tensions, what has been avoided is a triumvirate of right-wing parties in government, all fiercely opposed to any compromise with the independence movement. With the worst result for the conservative Partido Popular (PP) in 30 years, dropping from 137 to 66 seats, and in Catalonia losing five seats so that it now only has one, there is now no way it can form a government with Cs and the far-right Vox party.

Vox’s debut

In fact, Vox’s debut in the Spanish parliament, where it went from zero seats to 24, was the other big change of the night. Despite its hardline rhetoric in favour of Spanish nationalism, Vox even managed to win a seat in Barcelona, which is more than can be said for the pro-independence Front Republicà alliance (FR), which did not win a single seat.

However, it was far from a bad night for independence supporters, apart from the increase in the number of seats in the Spanish parliament held by pro-independence parties, a look at the voter turnout shows that, in all, over two million voted for a party that supports Catalonia’s right to decide. It was also an election that, at 77.5% in Catalonia, saw a particularly high voter turnout. What’s more, PSOE increased its majority in the senate, which is the chamber that has to ratify any decision to once again suspend Catalonia’s self-rule, something that the unionist parties called for in the campaign, but also something the Socialists have ruled out.

Along with Junqueras and Sànchez, the jailed pro-independence leaders Jordi Turull and Josep Rull also won seats. As they are on trial, it now remains to be seen whether the courts allow them to take up their seats. It also remains to be seen what will happen in the upcoming local and European elections, both just weeks away.


The contest for Barcelona

The general election results shed some light on how things might play out in the contest for Barcelona, in the local elections on May 9. With the ERC and PSC parties coming first and second in Catalonia, it seems likely that it is leftwing voters who will decide whether Ada Colau remains as Barcelona mayor, or whether Ernest Maragall (ERC) or Jaume Collboni (PSC) replace Colau in the office she has held since June 2015. The polls give Maragall the edge over his rivals, although a tripartite coalition of leftwing parties is a possibility. Yet, it must be remembered that voters rarely behave the same in the local sphere as in a general election.

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