A predictable turnaround
CiU obtains a governing majority in Catalonia, while the PSC hits an all-time low
The polls have overturned the Catalan political map. Convergència i Unió (CiU), after a seven-year crossing of the desert, is back in power in the regional government. The public has given its vote of confidence to this conservative Catalan nationalist bloc - 62 deputies, six short of a clear majority - and has punished the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which has dropped to an all-time low, at 28 seats.
This will enable CiU leader Artur Mas to govern alone, with the aid of variable parliamentary voting alliances, like those used by Prime Minister Zapatero, whose Socialist Party (PSOE) also falls a few seats short of a clear majority in the national Congress.
Mas now faces a difficult situation. The crisis will not abate in the short term, and the regional government will be forced to make unpopular cutbacks. But the recession will also put a brake on CiU's whole agenda.
Firstly, Mas will wait until the 2012 national elections to decide between the PSOE and the Popular Party (PP). This will allow him to put off until 2013 the proposal for a Basque-type "economic concert" (a fiscal arrangement by which the Basque regional government collects its own taxes, then splits them with the national government). This star measure in the CiU platform reflects the growth of pro-independence feeling in Catalonia. For the moment, CiU is not calling for a referendum on independence, preferring gradual objectives. The Spanish Constitutional Court's ruling against key points of the Catalan statute has given a huge boost to Catalan nationalist feeling.
The big loser, the PSC, faces the difficult task of a future catharsis. Its leader, José Montilla, has announced that he will leave his parliamentary seat to steer an overhaul from within the party organization. It remains to be seen whether the party's most Catalan-centric sector will put up a fight, and whether the more PSOE-oriented sector will move in the same direction. According to recent polling, the PSC will also lose the mayoralty of Barcelona, after 30 years in the saddle. This would be the second serious setback in a few months. The PSC risks ceasing to be the mass party that built bridges between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
Thanks to the crisis the PP has, with 18 deputies, obtained its best results ever in Catalan elections, fulfilling the aim set by the party's national leadership in Madrid - which, however, sees the Catalan electoral behavior as an "anomaly."
Another big loser is ERC, whose number of deputies has fallen by half. ERC's risky bid for the prompt holding of an independence referendum has not been endorsed by Catalan nationalist voters, who have mainly returned to CiU. Other ERC voters have gone to Joan Laporta's independence party, whose four deputies must share the "Mixed Group" with the three of Albert Rivera's Ciutadans party. The polls have dispelled doubts about the voter appeal of the xenophobic party Plataforma per Catalunya, which, however, came near to obtaining a seat.