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The bluff that failed

Mas’ plan to increase his power suffers a sharp setback; secessionism makes no progress

The first plebiscite on the secessionism championed by the Catalan premier and candidate for re-election, Artur Mas, has ended in a serious personal failure. After he had called for an “exceptional majority,” to be left with less than a clear majority was in itself a disaster for his center-right CiU Catalan nationalist bloc; but to fall far below it is a resounding failure. CiU remains well ahead of the other parties, but this hardly justifies the early elections, the talk about a “state of our own,” and the tension thus created.

CiU is now worse off than when Mas put an abrupt end to the legislature. Had he not bet so heavily on the sovereignty bid, he might have sought parliamentary allies of different ideologies, and indeed he enjoyed the support of the Popular Party (PP) for his budgets and austerity policies, and that of the left for his demand for a fiscal pact to keep Catalan taxes in the region. Now CiU will depend even more on the smaller secessionist parties, chiefly the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), the real beneficiary of the whole affair.

True, Mas gets something in return, though at a high price. Having called early elections spares him the punishment of the polls at the end of what would have been a normal legislature, in two years’ time, when the attrition due to the crisis and his austerity policies would have been even more severe. Now CiU can have another four years as the leading political party in Catalonia. Meanwhile the citizens came out to vote in unprecedented force, treating these regional elections as if they were national ones.

The poor results obtained by the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) wipe out its hopes of again governing in Catalonia. Debate on the crisis has been upstaged by the secessionist issue; and this, together with the fact of having a novice leader, has handicapped the party, when its federalist proposal was not even firmly accepted by its PSOE national master.

In any case, the mainstream currents in Catalan politics, CiU and PSC, have shrunk within the polarization aroused by the independence issue, and are now immersed in a more plural, fragmented parliament. Nor is the result good for the PP, which had taken a hard line in the belief that now was the time to win the trust of those who prefer to see Catalonia firmly anchored in Spain. The rise of the splinter party Ciutadans indicates that it has attracted the votes of many who oppose independence, but distrust the policies of the PP. This result will not please the Rajoy government, which also degraded the latter part of the campaign by the political utilization of a police document prepared in irregular circumstances.

The political bloc clearly in favor of secession has held its own in Catalonia, but has not advanced. The message conveyed by the ballot box is that there are many reasons why the Catalans should employ their energies in endeavors less uncertain that that of breaking with the rest of Spain; and also, that there are abundant reasons why the rest of Spain should revise and negotiate what may be unjust in its relations with Catalonia. Mas will now be hard put to cope with the complex situation he has placed himself in. But it is time for a mature approach on the part of the Catalan secessionists, and on the part of the Spanish government and other national political forces.

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