Catalan poll blurs regional future

Catalan poll blurs regional future
By Euronews
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The autonomous region of Catalonia in northern Spain is nursing a political hangover in the wake of elections on Sunday.

Parties that campaigned for the breakaway of Catalonia from the rest of the country won a majority, while the nationalist party of the regional president, Artur Mas, the Convergence and Union party (CiU), lost 12 seats.

CiU will now depend on support from the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) to govern.

We’re in part of the regional capital Barcelona known as Les Corts, where Elena Turalló has been active in the CiU since 2003.

Also an advisor to the mayor, she presented an urbane view of the election results.

Turalló said: “It wasn’t so bad, although I had hoped to do a little better. Because the stakes weren’t independence for Catalonia but rather the right for people to decide through the ballot box on which way to go in the legislature for the four years ahead – what the people of Catalonia want. I believe that democracy means allowing people to express themselves at a specific moment, and we have to be democratic.”

In this neighbourhood, the CiU got the highest vote score: 38 percent. Next came the centre-right Popular Party (PP), with 18 percent, and then the pro-independence ERC Republican Left with 11 percent.

Our correspondent in Barcelona Francisco Fuentes pointed out the contrasts in voting where Les Corts meets Hospitalet de Llobregat, saying, “This is a sovereigntist/federalist borderline.”

In Hospitalet the socialists came out in front, with nearly 25 percent, followed by the PP with a bit more than 17 percent. Here, the nationalists placed third, with less than 15 percent.

Hospitalet is predominantly made up of residents who aren’t originally from the Catalan region; only some 45 percent of the population are Catalan-born.

José Vicente Muñoz has his roots in Seville, far to the south of Spain. A former union leader, he has been active in the socialist party here since 1982.

Muñoz said: “I believe the Party of the Socialists in Catalonia should apply its social programme, which is highly detailed, along with the territorial programme for the configuration of a new, pluralist and diverse Spain, within a federalist system which allows us more freedom in diversity.”

The nationalist right CiU, having failed to win an absolute majority, is now stuck with a choice between seeking a political partnership with the pro-federalist socialists and the pro-independence Republican Left – where both potential allies want to move away from public austerity policies.

We spoke with José Antich, who heads the most-read newspaper in the Catalan language, ‘La Vanguardia’, in Barcelona, to analyse Catalonia’s election results.

Vicenç Batalla, euronews:
“Outgoing regional president Artur Mas leaves significantly weakened by this poll, but other independence-oriented parties gained votes, so Mas can govern [again] and organise a possible referendum. What strategy is he going to adopt now?”

José Antich:
“It is clear that Mas cannot govern alone. He has had a very big electoral setback. He has lost nearly 20 percent of his seats. That means he will have to put together a coalition government or find stable allies in parliament.

“He has two opposing options. One is to govern with the Catalan Socialist Party. That could lead to an impasse for the sovereigntists and the consultation plan the Catalan president committed to. Another alternative would be with the Republican Left of Catalonia, the independence party which is the second-strongest political force. That would be to form an alliance between the two parties in first place, and whose main objective would be to engage in this consultation process.”

“The Spanish parties didn’t benefit from the losses of the nationalist right. The socialists lost their second position and the Popular Party of Rajoy gained only slightly. Can Madrid find any consolation in this electoral result?”

“The Madrid government can take it as good news that Mas’s Convergence and Union party didn’t win an absolute majority, which Mas had asked for. But if we read the figures, the party that came out ahead in these elections is nationalist and the second is an independence party.

“The Spanish parties, the Socialist Party and the Popular Party, came third and fourth. In quantitative terms, the leading parties add up to around 1.6 million voters, and the others around one million. That is a 600,000-vote difference in the independence or sovereigntists’ favour.

“The two Spanish forces, the Popular Party and the Socialist Party, have to be calm in reading the numbers if they are going to be realistic about it.”

“The parties that have gained the most have so far been in the minority, among the left. Will the new government be obliged to change the economic policy that was adopted to get out of the crisis?”

“These elections have seen a fragmentation of Catalonia’s political map, evidently. It seems to be a much more pluralistic, multi-faceted map. The picture which emerges will make forming a government difficult. Why? Because there is an absence of reasonable majorities today.

“To add to this, we are seeing that all over Europe the economic crisis is wearing governments down. This is the key to the reduction we see for the Convergence and Union party – it has paid a price for the crisis. That laid the conditions for the forces of the left to emerge, which are far more radical and critical about the liberal directions Europe is taking.”

“Looking at the European Union, does this weaker-than-expected result for President Mas weaken his sovereignty plan in his dealings with authorities in Brussels?”

“In terms of leadership and majorities, the leadership of Catalonia is weaker but the majority is almost the same as before. Convergence and Union and the Republican Left had a total of 73 seats in parliament before, without Convergence proposing a project of statehood as it did in these elections. Having proposed that, the two of them now have 72 seats.

“We’ll see the European Union’s reaction in the days and weeks to come. The EU had already said quite plainly that it didn’t see a new Catalan state being created. Now we’ll see what sort of attitude and strategy the Catalan government adopts. “

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