Tide turns as Catalan pro-union socialists win regional elections

Socialist candidate Salvador Illa casts his vote
Socialist candidate Salvador Illa casts his vote Copyright Albert Estevez/MTI/MTI
Copyright Albert Estevez/MTI/MTI
By Euronews with AP
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The centre-left PSC party will need to earn the backing of others, as deal-making in the coming days will be key to forming a government.


Six years after plunging Spain into its worst political crisis in decades, Catalonia's separatist parties are in danger of losing their hold on power in the north-eastern region after the pro-union Socialist Party scored a historic result in Sunday's election.

The four pro-independence parties, led by the Together party of former regional president Carles Puigdemont, were set to get a total of 61 seats, according to a near-complete count of the ballots. That is short of the key figure of 68 seats needed for a majority in the chamber.

The Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC), led by former health minister Salvador Illa, savoured their best result in a Catalan election, claiming 42 seats, up from 33 in 2021, when they also barely won the most votes but were unable to form a government. This was the first time the centre-left party led a Catalan election in both votes and seats won.

Socialist candidate Salvador Illa makes a toast with members of his team and party colleagues after the announcement of the results of elections to the Catalan parliament
Socialist candidate Salvador Illa makes a toast with members of his team and party colleagues after the announcement of the results of elections to the Catalan parliamentEmilio Morenatti/AP

“Catalonia has decided to open a new era,” Illa told his thrilled supporters at his party headquarters. “Catalan voters have decided that the Socialist Party will lead this new era, and it is my intention to become Catalonia's next president.”

Illa led Spain’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic before Sánchez sent him back to Barcelona to lead his party. The 58-year-old Illa’s calm tone and focus on social issues convinced many voters that it was time to change after years of separatists pressing for severing century-old ties with the rest of Spain.

Sánchez congratulated Illa on the X platform for the “historic result.”

The socialists will need to earn the backing of other parties to put Illa in charge. Deal-making in the coming days, maybe weeks, will be key to forming a government. Neither a hung parliament nor a new election is out of the question.

But there is a path for Illa to reach the goal of 68 seats. The PSC are already in a coalition government in Madrid with the Sumar party, which now has six seats in the Catalan parliament. But the hard part will be wooing over a leftist party from the separatist camp.

Regardless of those negotiations, Illa’s surge should bode well for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the Socialists before the European elections next month.

Far-right gains ground as well

Separatists have held the regional government in Barcelona since 2012 and had won majorities in four consecutive regional elections. However, polling and a national election in July showed that support for secession has shrunk since Puigdemont led an illegal — and futile — breakaway bid in 2017 that led to hundreds of businesses and Catalonia's major banks leaving the region.

The Republican Left of Catalonia of sitting regional president Pere Aragonès plummeted to 20 seats from 33. But the leftist separatist party, which has governed in the minority during a record drought, could be key to Illa’s hopes, although that would require it to break with the pro-secession bloc.

The Popular Party, which is the largest party in Spain's national parliament, where it leads the opposition, surged to 15 seats from three.

The far-right, Spanish ultra-nationalist party Vox held its 11 seats, while on the other end of the spectrum, the far-left, pro-secession Cup took four, down from nine.

An upstart pro-secession, far-right party called Catalan Alliance, which rails against unauthorised immigration as well as the Spanish state, will enter the chamber for the first time with two seats.

“We have seen that Catalonia is not immune to the reactionary, far-right wave sweeping Europe,” Aragonés, the outgoing regional president, said.

The crippling drought, not independence, is currently the leading concern of Catalans, according to the most recent survey by Catalonia’s public opinion office.

The opinion office said that 50% of Catalans are against independence while 42% are for it, meaning support for it has dipped to 2012 levels. When Puigdemont left in 2017, 49% favoured independence and 43% were against.

More than 3.1 million people voted, with participation at 57%. Potentially thousands of voters had trouble reaching their polling stations when Catalonia’s commuter rail service had to shut down several train lines after what officials said was the robbery of copper cables from a train installation near Barcelona.

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