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Risk of a secessionist front

The result of the Catalan elections has cast doubt on the role of Artur Mas as premier

As he labors to digest his party’s worst result since 1980, Artur Mas is realizing how difficult it is going to be for him not only to pursue the secessionist agenda for which he was seeking an “exceptional majority” at the polls, but also merely to get through the vote on his investiture. As the electoral hangover clears, Sunday’s early elections are now seen to have been a leap into the dark, serving only to create tension in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain. CiU, far from being strengthened, has lost seats. Before the elections it could opt to govern in minority by tactical alliances with other parties; this is now going to be practically impossible. True, with 50 seats it is the only party in a position to form a government, but any possible alliance will have a high price, and will likely demand the breaking of some promises, to the disgust of some part or other of its electorate.

The rise of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) seems to point to an alliance between the two secessionist parties, as Mas has already hinted. But this involves more than a few risks, chiefly that of entering into an inter-party secessionist front dynamic, creating grave internal rifts and leading to a state of confrontation with the central government — most prejudicial, in the crisis situation, both to Catalonia and to Spain as a whole. The election results have shown that Catalan society is more plural and less monolithic than Mas made it out to be. Disregard of this reality was what brought electoral failure down on him.

Oddly enough, ERC had previously offered its parliamentary votes to CiU, as a partnership alternative to the PP. Now it is Mas who is calling on ERC to “share the load” of day-by-day governance; but, after CiU’s setback, it is now the radical, leftist secessionists of ERC who are in a position to set their price, which may be rather high. Their leader, Oriol Junqueras, has already said that any pact will require that CiU step up its secessionist agenda, with a referendum on independence as the first move, and renounce its cutbacks and austerity policy. The grave situation of regional finances does not leave much margin in this area; and, in any case, implementation of ERC’s leftist social program would require the reversal of many policies CiU has so far applied with the backing of the business sector. The option of an alliance with the PP has been rejected out of hand, and indeed is hard to imagine, when they are so diametrically at odds on the secession issue.

Days to come will highlight the irresponsibility of an adventure that has placed CiU in a corner. A pact with ERC will force it to junk its economic program; a pact with the PP (its previous ally) would see it dump its secessionist agenda. The third option, a pact with the Socialists (PSC), most natural in principle, also seems unlikely, in view of the distrust of the PSC, whose leader has pointed out that the PSC gave its votes to CiU in the preceding investiture, in exchange for a legislature agreement that was broken in every point.

So we may well ask: is Artur Mas the leader the situation requires? The underlying problems of Catalan society, both social and concerning its place in Spain, are still there, and demand answers. But CiU is now weaker, and further from the central political position that it never should have left in the first place.

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