CATALAN ELECTIONS

Battle lines drawn in intense first Catalan election debate

Pro- and anti-independence leaders locked horns in discussion ahead of regional vote on December 21

Riera (CUP), Domènech (CeC), Turull (JxC), Arrimadas (Ciudadanos) and Iceta (PSC) before the debate.
Riera (CUP), Domènech (CeC), Turull (JxC), Arrimadas (Ciudadanos) and Iceta (PSC) before the debate.Massimiliano Minocri

The first debate among candidates for the December 21 regional elections in Catalonia has highlighted the existence of two blocs with very different viewpoints on the issue of independence, while also demonstrating that supporters of secession from Spain are a long way from giving up on their ambitions.

The upcoming election, which was called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy using emergency powers under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, sees pro-independence forces determined to push ahead with secession plans lined up against the so-called “constitutionalist” parties who insist on the need to stop the independence process, get the teetering regional economy back on track and end social division.

PSC leader Miquel Iceta

Occupying the uneasy middle ground is Catalunya en Comú–Podem – a coalition led by the party of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and the Catalan branch of the anti-austerity party Podemos – which is opposed to both the application of Article 155 and any universal declaration of independence in the region.

The constitutionalist bloc in the December 21 elections is made up of Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP), the center-right Ciudadanos and the Catalan branch of Spain’s Socialists (PSC). These parties are far from a united front but they parked their differences on Thursday night and avoided attacking each other – a strategy also adopted by the pro-independence Junts per Catalunya, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the radical anti-austerity party CUP, all of which are still linked to their recent history as partners in the independence drive that led to the illegal October 1 referendum and the subsequent declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament on October 27.

In an intense debate lasting 75 minutes, the declaration of independence, the sacking of the Catalan government under Article 155 and the placement of members of that government in pre-trial custody on rebellion charges all came under scrutiny. The absences of the Junts per Catalunya candidate Carles Puigdemont – currently in Belgium after fleeing the region in the wake of the unilateral declaration of independence – and the ERC candidate Oriol Junqueras, who is still in pre-trial custody, were a further reminder of this recent past.

Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas

The debate also served to highlight that while pro-independence parties in Catalonia have ostensibly retreated from their hard-line strategy of unilaterally pursuing secession from Spain, they are still ready to push ahead with the “procés – as the independence drive is known in Catalan.

“We will continue to push ahead with the implementation of independence. That is the democratic mandate of October 1. Maybe we won’t go as quickly, but we will do it,” said Roger Torrent of the ERC.

CUP candidate Carles Riera was even more explicit, saying the party would “implement the republic, face up to the coup d’état [of Madrid] and push ahead with the unilateral route.”

“Instead of feeling regret, you will do the same thing again. We can’t allow ourselves four more years of ‘procés’ without realistic proposals,” said Ciudadanos candidate Inés Arrimadas, who maintained an aggressive stance throughout the debate.

Socialist candidate Miquel Iceta tried to steer the debate away from the recent past, saying: “I want to speak about what we are going to do in the future. The failure of the unilateral and illegal [independence] route has been demonstrated, the [Catalan] government was not ready and it was a total and absolute failure.” He said job creation and economic growth were now the chief priorities.

Meanwhile, one heated moment in the debate saw the CUP candidate Riera attacking Catalunya en Comú-Podem candidate Xavier Domènech for that party’s perceived failure to take sides in the independence debate. But Domènech tried to establish his party’s position outside the framework of two opposing blocs and stressed social policies instead.

English version by George Mills.

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