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Plaid Cymru’s sister party poised to lead Catalan government for the first time since the civil war

13 Feb 2021 6 minutes Read
Diana RIBA I GINER in the EP in Strasbourg. © European Union 2020 – Source : EP

Pro-independence parties are expected to win a narrow majority in tomorrow’s Catalan elections, with Plaid Cymru’s sister party poised to lead the government for the first time since the Spanish civil war.

Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) are set to overtake JuntsxCat (Together for Catalonia), the party of exiled former president Carles Puigdemont, as the largest pro-independence party to lead a coalition which will also depend on support from two smaller parties.

Together, the four pro-independence parties could hold between 68 and 74 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament, giving them a majority of up to six seats as in the last parliament. But they could fall short of winning 50% of the popular vote, which JuntsxCat said would represent a mandate for another unilaterial declaration of independence in a bid to outflank Esquerra on the issue.

The election has only been called because the most recent Catalan president, Quim Torra, was banned from holding public office by Spain’s supreme court for refusing to take down a banner reading “freedom for political prisoners and exiles” and yellow ribbons, a symbol of the independence movement, from the government’s headquarters.

His predecessor, Puigdemont, is one of four former ministers who remain in exile, while nine Catalan politicians and civil society leaders are serving prison sentences for organising the 2017 independence referendum.

Speaking from Barcelona yesterday, Esquerra MEP Diana Riba told Nation.Cymru that “an agreement with all the parties who want an amnesty of political prisoners and exiles” would be the priority of her party if they win the election.

“Then we have to find an agreement for a self-determination referendum,” added Riba, the wife of jailed former foreign minister Raul Romeva. “We have to work together on this objective and talk and talk and talk with the Spanish government to find a democratic solution for the wishes of Catalan citizens, not repressive solutions.”

Party Current number of seats Predicted number of seats
Esquerra Republican – pro-independence centre-left 32 31-32
Socialist Party – unionist centre-left 17 30-32
JuntsxCat – pro-independence centrists 34 29-30
Ciudadanos 36 11-12
En Comú Podem – left-wing federalists that support the right to a referendum 8 8-9
CUP – pro-independence radical left 4 8-9
Vox – unionist far-right 0 6-7
Partido Popular – unionist cenre-right 4 6-7
PDECat – pro-independence centre-right 0 0-3

Poll: Diari Ara

‘Historic’

The split in pro-independence voters could see a unionist party win the most seats for the second consecutive election. In 2017, unionist voters rallied behind centre-right Ciudadanos but their support has collapsed to the benefit of the Socialist party, which already leads the Spanish government.

That’s largely thanks to their candidate for president, Salvador Illa, whose perceived competence in handling the pandemic as Spain’s health minister has seen his popularity soar.

The Socialists are predicted to win between 30-32 seats, compared to 31-32 for Esquerra. Illa would have the right to try to form a government if his party tops the poll, but pro-independence parties this week signed a pact compelling them not to join a Socialist-led government.

Even if there was a narrow pro-union majority, Illa would have to accept support from far-right Vox, who are expected to enter the Catalan parliament for the first time, to become president of a minority government.

If Esquerra win, their lead candidate Pere Aragones would become the country’s first official president from the party since 1940 when Lluis Companys was executed by firing squad following fascist victory in the Spanish civil war. During the dictatorship, the two presidents of the Catalan government in exile were also from the party.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price sent a video message of “solidarity and support” to Esquerra, who are also members of the European Free Alliance group, on the eve of the election.

“It’s a historic opportunity for Esquerra to win election and to lead a majority of seats and votes in favour of Catalan statehood and sovereignty,” he said.

“This is a big prize not just for the people of Catalonia but for every people, every nation across the world which aspires to its own independence.”

Nation.Cymru interview with Esquerra MEP Diana Riba

Q: What effect has the pandemic had on the election campaign and you concerned about a fall in turnout?

DR:It’s not a normal situation but after a year of the pandemic all of us have found different channels to be connected to each other, like live Instagrams or Zooms. In the end we have had a really good campaign. For example, the biggest meeting that we did last weekend was watched by 3,000 people. This is impossible when it’s a physical meeting.”

Q: Over the past decade, elections in Catalonia have focused on independence but because of the pandemic there has been a stronger focus on health and employment. Has that been a challenge to pro-independence parties?

DR: “We cannot choose between these things. We have to do both things. If we are independent, we will have more tools to work on health and employment for citizens in Catalonia. It’s not about independence or health and employment. We don’t talk only about independence, we talk about feminism, ecology, transformation of society every election.”

Q: If Esquerra are the leading party in the government, how will you pursue independence?

DR: “Esquerra will have to take different steps at the same time. The first is to arrive at an agreement with all the parties who want an amnesty of political prisoners and exiles. A big majority of the parliament who want to resolve this conflict. Then we have to find an agreement for a self-determination referendum. There’s not only JuntsxCat and Esquerra who support this, there is also la CUP and En Comu, who have to work together for a solution and then perhaps win a ‘yes’ vote or not. We have to work together on this objective and talk and talk and talk with the Spanish government to find a democratic solution for the wishes of Catalan citizens, not repressive solutions.”

Q: How confident are you about winning the election on Sunday?

DR: “The polls at the moment are really not clear. There is the Socialists, Esquerra and JuntsxCat in more or less in the same situation minus one or two members. The last poll said that 40% of people were undecided. That’s a lot of swing voters who can change these results. But it’s very difficult to change the majority. The Socialists could win, like Ciudadanos in the last elections, but that doesn’t mean that they will have a majority to govern.”

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