With less than a week to go before the Catalan regional elections, the electoral campaign has shifted into a phase of unusual tension. The opinion polls published at the weekend show a panorama unfavorable to the premier, Artur Mas. What the surveys mainly agree on is that his conservative Catalan nationalist bloc, CiU, will not achieve a clear majority. After having framed the elections as a plebiscite on the plan to create a “state of our own,” a euphemism that Mas employs in reference to Catalan independence without actually using the word — and after having explicitly called on the voters to give him “an extraordinary majority” to empower him for this purpose — to achieve less than the required 68 deputies would be a failure. And it would be a failure even if the various secessionist parties increased their sum total of seats, for in this case the chief beneficiary would be the leftist Catalan nationalist party ERC — a very uncomfortable partner for Mas.
While the cold water of the surveys fell on CiU, an obscure episode has clouded the campaign. This is the publication of a strange draft of a report of the National Police anti-money-laundering brigade, according to which the families of Jordi Pujol and Artur Mas hold accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein containing large sums of money supposedly received as kickbacks from companies holding public works contracts, channeled as donations to the historic auditorium Palau de la Música. Another member of the Catalan regional government, Felip Puig, is also said to have received money while head of the public works department. The former Palau chairman, Félix Millet, and several executives, are accused of appropriating some 24 million euros, and the judicial inquiry has found indications that part of that money was used to finance CiU.
It so happens that neither the judge nor the prosecutor in charge of the Palau case have knowledge of this report, nor have they requested it, something that seems to be habitual with the above-mentioned brigade. Nor has the Interior Ministry any knowledge of its existence, four days later, as the minister has stated. Pujol and Mas have already brought criminal lawsuits against the publication that published it. The circumstances of this report arouse suspicions that have to be cleared up promptly — in favor of Mas, if he is innocent, but also in favor of democratic transparency.
Meanwhile, CiU is known to be involved in the Palau case for alleged illegal financing, so much so that the building housing its headquarters is under an embargo, though it has skillfully dodged the affair’s possible negative influences on the campaign. The publication of this report enables Mas to portray himself as a victim of “dirty tricks played by the plumbers of the Spanish state in Madrid,” heightening the polarization between friends and enemies of secession, while downplaying any discussion of CiU’s cutbacks in social spending. When the mud of corruption hits the fan in an electoral campaign, the winners are the populists, and those who already have their voters mobilized, while a discouraging message goes out to voters who are undecided or not very convinced.