Associated Press, Friday, Dec 22, 2017 (additional reporting further below)
Pro-independence parties win slim majority in regional parliament election, reviving Spain’s political standoff
Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont called Friday for talks with his adversary, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, after snap regional elections on Thursday, December 21 gave pro-independence parties a parliamentary majority.
Rajoy ignored the fugitive leader’s direct appeal for a meeting, declaring instead that a “new era based on dialogue” begins in the restive region and vowing to speak to its new leaders as long as they don’t violate Spain’s Constitution. “I will make an effort to dialogue with the government that forms in Catalonia, but I expect it to stop acting unilaterally and outside the law,” Rajoy told a press briefing.
Results: (full details on Wikipedia)
37 Ciutadans (‘Citizens’, leader Ines Arrimadas)
34* Junts per Cataluny (‘Together for Catalonia’, leader Carlos Puigdemont)
32* ERC (‘Republican Left of Catalonia’)
17 PSC (‘Socialist Party of Catalonia’)
8 Catalunya en Comú–Podem
4* CUP (‘Popular Unity Candidacy’)
3 ‘Popular Party’ (leader Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy)
* These three pro-independence parties have a slim majority in the newly-elected, 135-seat Catalonia legislature.
Puigdemont, who fled Spain almost two months ago to avoid arrest after going against court rulings and pushing for unilateral Catalan independence, said in Brussels that Thursday’s election also opened “a new era” for Catalonia.
At his own news conference, Puigdemont said he was ready to meet with Rajoy without preconditions anywhere in the European Union other than Spain. “More than two million people are in favour of Catalonia’s independence,” Puigdemont said, referring to the election results. “Recognizing reality is vital if we are to find a solution.”
Puigdemont also said that he’d return to Catalonia if the new parliament elects him as regional leader, though the legal protections he would have as an elected leader are unclear.
Rajoy called the snap election after Puigdemont and his followers declared Catalonia’s independence in October following a referendum that was deemed illegal by Spanish authorities. In response, Rajoy fired the Catalan government that Puigdemont ran and dissolved its parliament. Rajoy has ruled out independence, saying it is unconstitutional.
Acknowledging that unionist parties failed to win a majority Thursday, Rajoy said the results also underscored the region’s diversity. “It’s evident that Catalonia is not monolithic, it’s diverse and we should all respect that as a virtue,” the prime minister said on Friday in Madrid. He added that he wasn’t planning to call early national elections given the bad results of his own party in the region.
Asked whether he would accept meeting with Puigdemont, Rajoy said he would seek a meeting with Ines Arrimadas, the candidate that won most votes in the election.
Though Arrimadas’ pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) collected most votes in the ballot, it was a bittersweet victory for the business-friendly party as the pro-independence parties won most seats in the Catalan parliament.
Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia snared 34 seats in the 135-seat regional assembly, making it the most popular independence party. Two other pro-independence parties made up the dominant bloc: the left-wing republican ERC party, which collected 32 seats, and the radical, anti-capitalist CUP, which has four seats.
Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party came last with just three seats in what was a major blow to the country’s governing party.
The slim parliamentary majority that the pro-independence parties will enjoy in the Catalan parliament puts them in a strong position to form a new government. However, past squabbles between them suggest it won’t be easy.
‘An unknown situation’
Fernando Vallespin, a professor of political studies at Madrid’s Autonomous University, said there were many unpredictable factors clouding the immediate future of Catalonia, including the legal issues and whether the pro-independence parties can find common ground. “It really is an unknown situation,” he said.
A reminder of their potential legal woes came when a judge investigating them for leading an illegal independence push in October announced he is widening the rebellion and sedition probe to six more Catalan politicians.
People walking by the sea in the Catalan capital Barcelona said before Puigdemont spoke Friday that they want Spain’s political leaders to sit down and figure out a solution for the tense and drawn-out stalemate.
Beatriz Versosa, a 33-year-old product manager, regretted the lack of progress and said “the rulers of Spain and Catalonia [must] put themselves in the place of citizens and understand that they must solve the issue and set aside the most extreme positions.”
Mercedes Aras chided the Spanish government for imposing direct rule from Madrid after Catalan separatist parties in October unilaterally declared independence. The 54-year-old historian wanted Spanish authorities to “sit down to negotiate on a realistic basis.”
Five takeaways from the Catalan election, published in The Local, Dec 22, 2017
Catalonia election: Pro-independence parties keep their majorities but what happens now?
Elections in Catalonia have failed to clarify the restive region’s immediate future, exposing a deep and broad split between those for and against independence from Spain.
The Spanish government called the snap election after Catalan separatist parties unilaterally declared independence in October, following a referendum deemed illegal by Spanish authorities.
Spain’s government fired the regional government, arrested some of its leaders and dissolved the Catalan parliament. Here is a look at the outcome of this week’s ballot:
The pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) collected the most votes in what was the biggest electoral triumph so far for the party founded just over 10 years ago.
Ciutadans, led by 36-year-old lawyer Ines Arrimadas, has been the main opposition to the pro-independence movement in Catalonia.
However, it was a bittersweet victory for the business-friendly party because its 37 seats in the 135-seat regional assembly aren’t enough for it to form a regional government on its own.
The real winners turned out to be the pro-independence groupings, who together have a majority in the new Catalan parliament.
Though they have the opportunity to control the assembly, they scored less than half of the votes – 48 per cent of the total. That could be a source of vulnerability that political opponents will likely use to argue that most Catalans oppose independence.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy‘s conservative Popular Party came last with just three seats, down seven, in what was a major blow to the country’s governing party.
Mr Rajoy argued that the unrest in Catalonia over its October bid for independence had hurt the economy, in what is Spain’s richest region, accounting for about one-fifth of the country’s national income. By appealing to their pockets, Mr Rajoy had hoped Catalans would turn against the separatists.
The Citizens Party, emboldened by its strong showing in Catalonia, could become a stronger challenge for the Popular Party on a national level.
Who will take power?
Parties demanding independence won 70 seats, giving them a parliamentary majority, though they didn’t get as many seats as they did in the last election two years ago.
The separatists’ slim parliamentary majority will allow them together to negotiate the formation of a government. Past squabbles between them suggest it won’t be easy.
Together for Catalonia snared 34 seats, making it the most popular separatist party. Its leader is Carles Puigdemont, the fugitive former Catalan president. He campaigned from Belgium where he is evading a Spanish judicial probe into the October attempt to split from Spain. The investigation could lead to charges of rebellion and sedition, which carry penalties of decades in prison if he returns to Spain for a possible trial.
The left-wing republican ERC Party collected 32 seats. Its leader and Mr Puigdemont’s former number two, Oriol Junqueras, is being held in jail near Madrid while the investigation continues. The radical, anti-capitalist CUP has four seats.
Major questions include: who from the ranks of those three parties might agree on becoming Catalan president, and what conditions would each political party impose on one another? Plus, what will they seek from Madrid?
What about Spain?
The elections kept alive the turbulent issue of Catalan independence, which has scant support in Spain.
The likely continuing political unrest and uncertainty is unwelcome for investors, if the early market response on Friday is anything to go by. The Madrid stock exchange slid 1.6 per cent at the open but soon recovered to trade only 0.9 per cent lower in late morning trading.
Investors “are wisely taking a little risk off the table” after seeing the Catalan result, ETX Capital senior market analyst Neil Wilson said in a note.
Spain’s central bank last week blamed the uncertainty in Catalonia for its decision to cut its national growth forecasts for next year and 2019, to 2.4 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively.
Eight of the separatist lawmakers who were elected, including Mr Puigdemont and Mr Junqueras, are either in jail or are fugitives from Spanish justice in Brussels, following the October secession bid.
By law, they can formally accept their seats as deputies without being present. However, parliamentary rules do not allow fugitive or jailed lawmakers to vote in absentia. This means that unless their status changes, the eight may have to renounce their seats and pass them on to other party members.
Otherwise, the separatists would be short of the majority necessary to elect a new government and pass laws in the regional assembly.
Mr Rajoy is expected to announce the date of the inaugural Catalan parliament session in the coming weeks, but rules say that it will need to be before 23 January.
At that opening session, the parliament chooses a house speaker who will call on a candidate to try to form a government within 10 days. The first investiture vote for a new Catalan president must be held by 6 February.
In that first vote, the candidate needs an absolute majority of votes. If the candidate fails, he or she will have another chance within 48 hours when they need to have only more votes in favour than against. Failing that, the parties will have two months to form a government or fresh elections will be called.
Governing Catalonia, meanwhile, will remain in the hands of central authorities in Madrid, until a new Catalan Cabinet is chosen. Mr Rajoy has not ruled out invoking the constitutional article that allows him to seize control of the region if the new government breaks the law again by seeking unilateral independence.