“On Monday I will sign the decree calling new elections” – Artur Mas

CUP chief quits over decision not to back acting premier’s reinstatement as regional head

Artur Mas speaks to the press this week.
Artur Mas speaks to the press this week.A. Garcia

Acting Catalan premier Artur Mas is already counting on there being new elections in Catalonia, thus ruling out an agreement with anti-capitalist group Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), the party that holds the key to power in the region.

“On Monday I will sign the decree calling new elections,” Mas announced on Tuesday morning in Barcelona. The acting premier added that he would, nonetheless, run the clock down on the legal time frame that the CUP has to change its mind and decide to support his investiture as head of parliament.

The political tug-of-war in Catalonia this week prompted one high-profile resignation, but it is not the one that many people were expecting.

Another issue up in the air is what happens to the breakaway process that began late last year

Mas has been unable to secure enough support for his reinstatement in the more than three months since Catalonia held elections, but this week he has insisted that he will not step aside in favor of a consensus candidate.

Instead, the one leaving is the leader of CUP – the fringe party that is withholding the support Mas so desperately needs to get sworn in and form a government.

This party’s 10 elected deputies hold the key to power in the region after Mas’s own separatist coalition failed to attract enough votes for an absolute majority at the September 27 election.

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And in an added twist to the tale, the man who vowed that CUP would never back Mas is walking away because his party has decided to do precisely what he promised.

Antonio Baños, who ran as top of the list for the anti-establishment CUP – a left-wing alliance of organizations that espouse Catalan independence, anti-capitalism and ecofeminism – announced his decision to give up his congressional seat on Monday.

In a public letter, Baños made it clear that the CUP’s decision not to support Mas’s reinstatement bid is the reason for his departure.

“I am leaving because I feel unable to defend the position adopted by the majority. This political position is at odds with the ideas and goals that led me to run as a candidate at the September 27 election,” he wrote.

Baños had stated that his party would “never, never, never” help Mas become regional chief again

Yet during the campaign, and even afterwards, Baños had passionately stated that his party would “never, never, never” help Mas become regional chief again, due to the corruption cases affecting his Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) group and because of the social cuts effected by the liberal premier during his earlier term in office.

In his letter, Baños claims to see things with greater clarity now.

“Once a pro-independence majority was obtained on September 27, I understood that our explicit mandate was to begin the break with the [Spanish] state without further ado,” he writes. “That is the reason why I was among the proponents of accepting the agreement with [Mas’s coalition] Junts pel Sí and voting in its candidate.”

Josep Rull (left) and Artur Mas.
Josep Rull (left) and Artur Mas.Massimiliano Minocri

But the CUP decided not to do this following a series of assemblies that came to a head this past Sunday with an internal vote in which 36 members voted against supporting Mas, 30 voted in favor and one person abstained.

The deep division within the left-wing alliance could mean more CUP resignations in the coming days. In a release following Baños’ departure, its leaders said that “we know that we could not please everyone yesterday [Sunday]... But for us this is just a bend in the road, one of many in our firm commitment to the independence of the social, feminist and ecologist Catalan Countries.”

In the meantime, there are only five days left before a new premier can be sworn in. If the January 10 deadline comes and goes, Catalonia will be forced to hold a fresh election in March – a scenario that separatists have been trying to avoid. It is unclear whether the CUP would run again as such, or for that matter whether Mas’ own separatist coalition, Junts pel Sí, would be able to hold itself together for a new run.

The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), a veteran party that was one of the main members of the Junts pel Si coalition, may want to go it alone in a new election. Its leader, Oriol Junqueras, has even been named by CUP as a candidate that they would support if he were to step up for the job of Catalan premier. And surveys show that ERC could beat CDC if a new ballot were to be held.

For us this is just a bend in the road, one of many in our firm commitment to the independence of the social, feminist and ecologist Catalan Countries”

CUP leadership

But so far, Mas’s CDC is refusing to produce any new nominees to end the political gridlock. Instead, it has gone on the offensive, accusing the CUP of becoming “the great ally of the [Spanish] state’s powers-that-be in their bid to kick out the premier of Catalonia.”

Josep Rull, coordinator general of CDC, said about the CUP that “ideology, socialism and revolution took precedence over independence.” He also accused the anti-capitalists of a “lack of maturity.”

“Their rejection of Mas is a rejection of what CDC represents,” added Rull, whose liberal party’s pro-business values are at odds with the CUP’s own socialist vision. “If Mas goes, the message is that the CUP with its 10 deputies is leading the process, rather than the force that obtained 62 deputies. It sends out the unequivocal message that a minority is taking charge of the process.”

While time is running out for an 11th-hour deal that would prevent a new election of unpredictable results, another issue up in the air is what happens to the breakaway process that began late last year, when Junts pel Si and CUP were still working together.

A separatist motion passed by the Catalan parliament on November 9 announced the beginning of this break with Spain, and called on lawmakers to produce legislation to create a new Catalan social security and treasury. There was an 18-month deadline to create the necessary state structures to declare full independence, and a warning that Catalonia would not heed the rulings of the Spanish Constitutional Court.

But with no Catalan government to push these measures forward, the plans are now on hold. Rull, however, said that “we still think that the best option for Catalonia is independence. The process is not buried.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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