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Pro-independence parties forecast to fall short in Sunday’s Catalan elections

11 May 2024 7 minute read
Carles Puigdemont’s final rally in Elna. Photo Junts Per Catalunya

Luke James

Residents of Barcelona who wanted to attend the final rally of Carles Puigdemont, the highest profile candidate in tomorrow’s Catalan elections, needed to make a 200 kilometre journey across a border and the Pyrenees mountain range.

Puigdemont, who went into exile following the crackdown on Catalonia’s 2017 independence referendum, is once again standing in the Catalan capital and hopes an amnesty due to be approved later this month will allow him to return to the country and pick up where he left off.

But until then, he has been leading the campaign of his party, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), from outside Spain to avoid being arrested.

As they have done throughout the campaign, hundreds of Puigdemont’s supporters boarded specially-branded buses to see him speak in Elna, a small town south of Perpignan – an area which is culturally and historically Catalan but, like parts of the Basque Country, are on the French side of the border.

‘Incredible’

“It’s incredible to see thousands of people going to the north of Catalonia, in France, to attend public rallies with a lot of energy,” said Aleix Sarri i Camargo, one of Puigdemont’s advisers, told Nation.Cymru.

“He cannot go to Catalonia without being arrested so we thought we’ll get everyone to come to him. The feeling is very, very positive and we hope that on Sunday he will have a victory that will restore his presidency.”

Puigdemont is staking his future on the outcome of the election, saying he will retire from politics if he fails to regain the presidency.

But that is far from certain. The final pre-election poll published on Monday by Spain’s public research institute, the Centre for Sociological Research, put Junts per Catalunya on course to win between 15% to 18% of the votes, enough for around 30 seats.

After finishing behind Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (The Republican Left of Catalunya) in 2021, that would see them reclaim the title as the largest pro-independence force in the 135-seat Catalan parliament.

Consolation prize

That would be a consolation prize though if, as polls suggest, pro-independence parties do not win a majority of seats for the first time since 2012.

Pro-independence parties held a six seat majority in the last parliament after winning more than 50% of the popular vote for the first time.

Now polls predict they will be six seats short of a majority. A new far-right pro-independence party, the Aliança Catalana, is expected to win seats for the first time but all mainstream parties have agreed not to work with them or Spanish far-right party, Vox.

“The last seven years have been very hard,” said Sarri i Camargo. “We have faced prison, we have faced exile, we have seen hundreds of people prosecuted – from government officials to small town mayors to citizens who had attended protests.

“This has obviously created fatigue. When you face repression, it also creates divisions, which is one of the reasons why they apply repression to a movement. And it is obvious there have been divisions in the pro-independence camp during the last few years.”

Coalition

These elections are themselves the product of that division. The coalition between Esquerra Republicana and Junts per Catalunya fell apart in October 2022 over disagreements in how to achieve independence, leaving Esquerra unable to pass their budget in March.

“At the same time, I don’t feel the number of people who are pro-independence has gone down,” added Puigdemont’s adviser. “We have to see the election on Sunday as a tipping point: if Carles Puigdemont restores his presidency, this will be an injection of self-esteem.”

Puigdemont is by far the best-known candidate – he is even better known than the President of the European Parliament in Germany, France, Denmark and Slovenia, according to a recent poll.

Mark Drakeford

But Socialist party candidate Salvador Illa is by far the most popular in Catalonia. The way his star has risen over the past four years bears a resemblance to the change in the perception of Mark Drakeford in Wales.

His profile was raised considerably while serving as Spanish health minister during the pandemic, a role which suited his serious, managerial demeanour.

Some 27% of Catalans want to see Illa become the next president, compared to 17% for Puigdemont and 13% for the current president, Pere Aragonès of Esquerra Republicana.

“He is a person who is committed to dialogue, who will turn the page and open a new chapter that will not be so marked by identarian debates, division and confrontation,” said Laura Ballarin Cereza, a Catalan Socialist party member of the European Parliament.

The Socialists topped the poll in last Catalan elections and are expected to do better again tomorrow, winning between 30% and 33% of the vote and around 40 seats.

The collapse of the Ciudadanos party has created a new pool of Spanish-identifying voters from which the Socialists can draw support.

Drought

Meanwhile a drought, which has seen strict limits placed on water use, is among immediate social issues which are pushing constitutional concerns further down the lists of voters’ concerns.

“We are trailing the rest of Spain when it comes to renewable energies, we have a lack of infrastructure and a lack of foresight in the face of the drought emergency,” said Ballarin Cereza.

“The priorities of Salvador Illa are that Catalonia is once again respected for its excellence in public services, improving education, giving more resources to healthcare, and ensuring the country has the infrastructure needed to guarantee the right to water.”

During the final televised debate on Thursday, Jéssica Albiach of Comuns (the post-Podemos federalist left) said she wanted a left-wing coalition with the Socialist party and Esquerra Republicana.

“We have one of the most progressive parliaments in Europe and we always end up in a deal with the right,” said the potential kingmaker whose party is expected to win around nine seats.

Esquerra Republicana were junior coalition partners to the Socialists twice between 2003 and 2010.

But Esquerra’s Pere Aragones has accused Illa of leading the “most pro-Spanish” Socialist party in history. Illa has been criticised during the campaign for using the Spanish names for Catalan towns.

“Salvador Illa will definitely win the elections but he will have difficulties in governing,” said Professor Jesús Palomar i Baget of the University of Barcelona.

“A tripartite government between the Socialists, Esquerra and Communs is a complicated option because it would have major implications for the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez in Madrid, which is supported by Junts and Esquerra.

“If Junts or Esquerra don’t have the presidency of the Catalan government, they would have fewer reasons to keep giving support to Pedro Sanchez.”

Divisions

If pro-independence parties have the numbers to form another government, Palomar i Baget believes they will overcome their recent divisions.

“In the end, they know that they will need each to govern, whether that’s through a coalition or support outside government,” he added.

“Carles Puigdemont has better relations with Pere Aragones than Junts has with Esquerra, so that will help. They both have an interest in improving their relationship.

“I’m not among those people who think there will be another set of elections. I’m sure there will be a government, even if it’s a minority one and has a lot of difficulties.”


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David
David
11 days ago

The voting system Catalonia uses a closed list system, which means the various parties publish a fixed, ordered list of candidates for each constituency. Voters then vote for the list of candidates put forward by the political parties, rather than choosing a preferred individual candidate. This is a form of Proportional Representation, designed so that the makeup of the parliament resembles the voting preferences of the electorate at large. In other words, if, for example, 20% of people vote for a particular party, that party can expect to win approximately 20% of the seats in parliament. Parties need to gain… Read more »

Riki
Riki
11 days ago

In it weird how all these pro independence parties across all the historic native people always seem to fall short.

Richard E
Richard E
9 days ago
Reply to  Riki

Not so odd as like Stalin the Dictator Franco moved thousands of poor people from rural Castile to populate the Catalan nation to water down “ native “ culture

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