Tensions threaten unity of Catalan leader’s pro-independence platform

Premier Mas accused of blackmailing pro-sovereignty groups into accepting his candidates

Catalan premier Artur Mas during a press conference.
Catalan premier Artur Mas during a press conference.Albert García

Artur Mas, the head of the regional government of Catalonia, is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the appearance of unity within the pro-independence platform that was organized to run in the northeastern region’s September 27 elections.

On Tuesday, Antonio Baños, the top candidate for the left-leaning, pro-sovereignty CUP party, accused Mas of “blackmailing” the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Ómnium Central – two pro-independence civic associations that also form part of the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) bloc – by threatening not to call the elections unless they backed his single list of candidates.

The heads of the pro-independence groups were quick to deny the CUP politician’s accusations

CUP, which stands for Candidatura d'Unitat Popular or Popular Unity Candidates, ultimately decided not to join the platform.

Although voters are officially just voting for who will preside over the Catalan regional government during the upcoming election, Mas and his team are presenting it as a de facto referendum on independence. A bid to hold an official referendum last year was blocked by the central government and upheld by the Constitutional Court, though an informal vote was ultimately held on November 9.

The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has already insinuated in public and explained in private talks that Mas has used the power he has under the law as premier to call elections to pressure pro-independence parties to accept his list of candidates.

However, this is the first time that what had been considered an open secret has been so explicitly stated.

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The heads of the pro-independence civic associations were quick to deny Baños’ allegations.

“At no time during the conversations was this subject brought up,” said Quim Torra, head of Òmnium Cultural, in reference to Mas’s alleged blackmail.

The Junts pel Sí bloc comprises two political parties – Mas’s Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the ERC headed by Oriol Junqueras – and various pro-independence civic associations. Together, they hope to inspire renewed support for a secessionist bid despite the dwindling support for independence, according to opinion surveys, over the past few months.

If secessionist parties win the September 27 race, Mas has said that independence could be formally declared six to eight months later.

But trust among the secessionists has never been strong. Previously, ERC leader Junqueras supported a pro-independence electoral list with no career politicians on it as the best way to win the regional elections.

“A list without politicians is the best way to prove that the elections will be a true plebiscite on independence,” he said at one point.

Until now, CDC’s traditional political ally had been the Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC). Together, the CiU coalition has governed Catalonia almost uninterruptedly for 37 years, beginning with the region’s long-serving premier Jordi Pujol, who presided the region for 23 years and is now under a court investigation for tax evasion. Mas has been at the leader of the Catalonia government since 2010.

But in June, the CDC and UDC partners announced that they were breaking up, mainly because UDC refused to support the Catalan independence project any longer.

Although both parties share a nationalist vision of Catalonia, UDC holds more moderate views that fall short of independence.

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