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Election results in Catalonia: a wide-open scenario

The Catalan Socialists attracted the most votes on Sunday while the pro-independence bloc collectively secured a majority of seats

PSC candidate Salvador Illa celebrating his victory at Sunday's polls.
PSC candidate Salvador Illa celebrating his victory at Sunday's polls.Massimiliano Minocri

The regional election in Catalonia has left the governing scenario wide open. Victory as the best-performing party can be claimed by the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC-PSOE), both in terms of the popular vote and seats, although in the latter metric they are tied with the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). Former Health Minister Salvador Illa, the PSC candidate, has come out on top, but his win comes against a backdrop where pro-independence forces have collectively reinforced their parliamentary presence with a majority of seats.

Despite the difficult outlook for forming a governing majority, Illa said before midnight on Sunday that he is planning to make a bid for the regional premiership. In doing so, he is avoiding the mistake made at the 2017 regional election by Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos (Citizens), who gave up on the difficult test of trying to form a government in a hostile environment despite her party’s clear victory at the polls. Illa’s statement also challenges the veto against him signed at the last minute by independence parties in what amounts to a clannish, sectarian document.

The two-party governing model tried by Junts and ERC has already delivered all the paralysis and sterility that it was capable of

The second position goes to ERC, which has narrowly defeated Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia). This changes the balance within the independence bloc, allowing the republicans to revert their traditional submissiveness to a highly corrupt conservative nationalism. The outcome also allows ERC to become the new leader of the independence bloc’s attempt to hold on to government, taking this leadership position away from Junts – a heterogenous group that leans harder toward unilateral secession, led by former premier Carles Puigdemont (who fled to Brussels to avoid arrest after the 2017 breakaway attempt) and by rival Laura Borràs.

The outcome of the vote underscores the resilience of secessionist sentiment in Catalan society. Yet the boast of having secured over 50% of the popular vote as a potential excuse for another future illegal breakaway operation flounders when the fact is considered that turnout was around 25 points lower than in 2017. Presuming to make strides toward a unilateral independence declaration with support from less than a third of eligible voters would not only be illegal, it would also be folly no matter how you look at it.

Catalonia needs to distance itself from unilateral adventures. The two-party governing model tried by Junts and ERC, and symbolized by the deservedly forgotten administration of Quim Torra, has already delivered all the paralysis and sterility that it was capable of. The fact that a repeat edition of this governing coalition would now also require support from the anti-capitalist CUP party is in itself no guarantee of greater stability or consistency, even if it would allow Junts and ERC to hold on to power.

There’s been a tactical vote in which voters have assumed that a tough opposition, even one that expresses itself in intolerant tones, is the most efficient way to counterbalance the secessionist surge

Although the Socialists’ chances of crafting alternative alliances are slim, and despite their two main rivals’ vacuous expectations of being able to offer Catalonia a new management model, it is legitimate to try to create a new kind of executive in order to open up a new, more positive era in the region, one that will serve to overcome government paralysis, institutional erosion and economic decadence. In this sense, it would be good to begin a period of reflection to curb the emotional excesses of the campaign and reconsider all the possibilities on the table.

The outcome of the February 14 election is notable for one particularly mortifying event for liberal democracy, and for the more global Spanish political scene. It is the rise of the far-right populism embodied by Vox, and the corresponding defeat of the conservative right (Popular Party) and the liberal right (Citizens). But it is not a foregone conclusion that this equation has become systemic. Not at all. Everything appears to indicate that there’s been a tactical vote in which voters have assumed that a tough opposition, even one that expresses itself in intolerant tones, is the most efficient way to counterbalance the secessionist surge. In any case, this will have repercussions in national politics.

Citizens have had their say. It is now up to political parties to seek a governing formula. It is obvious that the previous period has had pernicious results. It is to be hoped that the appropriate consequences will follow, in the best interest of the citizens of Catalonia.

English version by Susana Urra.

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