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Catalan election offers Mas hope of independence mandate

Separation from Spain has been the key issue throughout the campaign. But failure to clinch a majority will be a setback for the region’s gambling premier.


Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.

Unfinished business: Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.

Sunday’s election in Catalonia is probably the most significant in the region since Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s, due to the way the issue of independence has utterly dominated the campaign.

Although the central government’s Partido Popular (PP) will not win, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will follow the election extremely closely. The upsurge in pro-independence sentiment in Catalonia has suddenly emerged as Rajoy’s most urgent political challenge and he has struggled to deal with it effectively.

Guy Hedgecoe examines the Catalan independence drive (Audio):
Catalan Independence (Audio)

A resounding win for the incumbent, Artur Mas of the CiU mainstream nationalists, would seem to hand him a mandate to push ahead with his separatist agenda. He called early elections after Rajoy refused to consider a new fiscal framework for the Catalan region. It was a bold move by Mas and if he secures the 68 seats needed for a majority (up from 62 now), it will have paid off.

The Catalan premier put independence at the heart of his campaign, setting the agenda for all the political parties. He has appealed to voters to give him the kind of mandate he says allowed Scotland’s nationalists to negotiate a referendum on independence with London. But Mas has warned he will organise his own referendum whether Madrid likes it or not.

However, recent polls have cast doubt on Mas’s ability to secure a majority in the Catalan parliament. He has been hurt by accusations made by El Mundo newspaper that he and others in the CiU have Swiss bank accounts containing ill-gotten funds. Mas has presented this as an attempt to slander Catalonia and hinder his self-rule project.

Polls suggest that while the vote for the CiU may not increase, a more radical pro-independence party, Esquerra Republicana (ERC), is likely to benefit much more from the wave of nationalist feeling.

Despite the prevailing political wind in Catalonia, the PP’s staunch stance against further decentralisation resounds among conservative voters and the party could leapfrog the Socialists.

The Catalan Socialist Party has struggled to get a grip on recent developments, eventually settling on a proposal for a “federal” solution for the region – a third way between its rivals. But this alternative has failed to convince voters, it seems, and the party is still suffering an image crisis on a national level due to the economic legacy of former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. A very poor performance on Sunday would pile further pressure on the leader of the Spanish Socialists, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

The biggest certainty going into Sunday’s vote is that the result – like that of the recent Basque election – will see pro-independence parties dominate the region’s parliament. If no party gets a majority, the CiU and ERC’s ability to agree on how to implement their visions of a Catalan state is a different matter, but such an outcome will still manage to unsettle the government in Madrid deeply.

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Published: Nov 21 2012
Category: Politics, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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5 Comments for “Catalan election offers Mas hope of independence mandate”

  1. I think “El Mundo-gate” has tipped the balance definitively in Mas’s favour. The ugly spectacle of a right-wing newspaper either working actively with Spanish govt. departments or with the government’s tacit approval and subsequent eagerness to exploit the “scandal” has not worked against Mas as was hoped. Instead (predictably) the backlash against the shoddy dirty tricks campaign, a typically-Spanish chapuza, has propelled Mas into the role of martyr of the secret state. He’ll probably get his 68 member majority on the back of that, just.

    My prediction: CiU squeak through a wafer-thin majority. CiU 68, PSC 18, PP 17, ERC 15, Cs 9, others 7.

    Today 24th November there will be a mass rally in Barcelona in protest at the El Mundo manipulation, or in support of Mas if you prefer. It might be considered illegal as it coincides with the “day of reflection” in which no political activity is permitted. I don’t think many people attending this rally will be bothered about that, as they perceive a much greater illegality being perpetrated by El Mundo, and the responses of various PP figures.

    Interestingly almost none of the English-language press has caught on to this. The Guardian has sent an army of reporters to Barcelona, but they are so busy getting voxpops they don’t have time to check the local press. They seem to believe the situation is quite similar to the UK and Scotland, but they have no idea how deep the currents flow, and how the Spanish government is quite remarkably different from the UK govt of Cameron. Giles Tremlett their man in Madrid is strangely silent.

    The only report I’ve found which analyses the effect of El Mundo-gate is in the Irish Times, where it says “newspaper accusations in recent days that he has a bank account in Switzerland with dirty money in it appear to have hampered his campaign.” This analysis is previous to the revelation that the police dossier doesn’t officially exist, and in fact is an unattributed and possibly falsified document.

    The report as revealed yesterday doesn’t directly accuse Mas (or Oriol Pujol or Felip Puig) of this crime or present any evidence for it. The backlash on the street here in Barcelona (on radio, TV, on social media and in bars) is palpable, it reminds me very much of the 14-M Atocha bombings and the Saturday night before the election when the streets erupted in protest at Acebes’ declaration that the terrorist act was attributable to ETA (another affair in which El Mundo was prominent).

    So Pedro Jota may well have clinched the election for his nemesis Mas. When will they learn? If you’re going to sabotage the democratic process, at least put a professional on the job. Don’t leave it to the police, you know they’ll just mess it up.

    • I have never rated Tremlett, at least not since I moved to or even had any links with the Basque Country. All his articles on this region/country are tinged by the fact that he – to me – clearly has no love for or empathy with the place.

      The Irish press has always reflected more on Basque (and Catalan) politics – and vice-versa, though Gara’s take on the N.I. peace process showed such a lack of sensitivity and such a tendency/desire to see everything through ‘Basque goggles’ that I eventually stopped reading. I wanted to read what Ian Paisley had to say, not what I should feel about him saying it.

      Of course, as we have seen with El Mundo (La razón and others of their ilk) Gara has no lack of rivals when it comes to one-sided reporting.

  2. Ooops made a mistake in the sum, which adds up to 134 seats. I feel a bit like Alicia Sánchez Camacho and her dodgy maths presentation now.
    Let’s say Cs 10 and Others 7.

  3. OK well I won’t be giving up my day job to become a political analyst – on the other hand why not? Since all of them were as wrong as me…

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