segunda-feira, 28 de setembro de 2015

Five takeaways from the Catalan elections

Pro-independence parties emerged with a majority of seats in Sunday’s regional election in Catalonia but they fell short of their target to capture 50 per cent of the ballots cast.

The main pro-independence party, Junts pel Si, won just under 40 per cent of the vote and 62 seats in the Catalan parliament, making it the biggest political force in the chamber by far. Together with the 10 seats won by CUP, a far-left pro-secession party, the independence camp will have an absolute majority in the 135-seat regional legislature.

But the two parties together won slightly less than 48 per cent of the regional vote — falling short of the majority they would have needed in a proper independence referendum.

So what are the lessons for the independence debate in Catalonia and for the future plans of president of the region Artur Mas?

The independence camp is reaching a plateau, albeit a high one

After years of intense campaigning, there were doubts over how much more the Catalan pro-independence camp could grow. Sunday’s historic election showed that the movement has continued to expand — but at a much-slower pace.

According to the official result, 1.952m Catalans voted for one of the two pro-independence parties, Junts pel Si and CUP. At last year’s informal independence vote, the number of independence supporters stood at 1.897m. The increase is marginal, and suggests that support for a Catalan secession from Spain is finally reaching a plateau.

On the face of it, that scenario would be worrying for the independence camp, which has yet to show that it has half the regional electorate behind it. What more can it possibly do to sway those it has not yet convinced? But Sunday’s result also holds a clear warning for Madrid: Spain’s government has spent years mocking the independence campaign as a soufflé, ready to collapse at any moment. That has not happened yet, and there is no sign that it will. Both sides, it seems, will have to dig in for a long and difficult battle, in which territorial gains will be measured in inches, not miles.

Almost everyone’s a winner

Elections are supposed to divide politicians into winners and losers. Not on Sunday night. The independence parties were celebrating the fact that they managed to obtain their desired absolute majority in parliament. Their opponents were celebrating the fact that the separatist bloc was kept below 50 per cent of the vote. The anti-independence Ciudadanos party was thrilled to emerge as the second force in Catalan politics, lifting its vote from 8 per cent in 2012 to 18 per cent now. The Socialists surprised themselves by losing fewer voters than they have grown accustomed to. The conservative Popular party fared badly — but can console itself with its resurgence at national level. The PP’s eyes are firmly on the general elections in December, where it will present itself as the principled defender of Spanish unity. Whatever tensions arise between Barcelona and Madrid in the next weeks will probably play into its hands.

What happened to Podemos?

The rise of the awkward Catalan kingmakerSpain’s new anti-austerity movement was not on the ballot. Instead, it threw in its lot with other leftwing groups to form Catalunya Si Que Es Pot, or Catalonia Yes It Is Possible. The result was a severe disappointment. The alliance scored just 9 per cent of the vote, and 11 seats in parliament — a poor performance when measured against Podemos’s backing at national level or the movement’s recent triumphs in local elections in Barcelona and Madrid. Part of the problem was clearly made-in-Catalonia, starting with the party´s little-known lead candidate and the remarkably cumbersome name (abbreviated to the no less cumbersome CSQEP). The attempt to steer a middle way between the pro- and anti-independence camp also appears to have backfired. But the disappointment on Sunday night will undoubtedly raise broader questions: Is the novelty effect and excitement of Spain’s radical new-left wearing off? Have Greece’s economic travails harmed the standing of Syriza party´s closest ally in Europe? Podemos, and Spain, will find out two months from now, when the country holds general elections.

The Popular Unity Candidacy, or CUP, is a small party with a big role to play after Sunday night. It supports the creation of an independent Catalan republic, but campaigned separately from Junts pel Si, the joint list formed by the region’s two main pro-independence parties. This is where it gets complicated. The CUP’s 10 seats count towards the pro-independence bloc, but it has a very different idea of what an independent Catalan state should look like. Its manifesto promises to take Catalonia out of the EU, out of the Eurozone and out of Nato. It supports the nationalisation of key industries and more state intervention in the banking sector. Crucially, it has also made clear that it will not support Artur Mas, the Catalan president, for another term in office. The other pro-independence parties, however, want Mr Mas to continue in his job. The dilemma here is clear for both sides: the pro-independence camp can only claim to have a majority in parliament if Junts pel Si and the CUP are united. And there is, at least for now, no real indication that the CUP´s radical agenda can be reconciled with the conservative base that supports Mr Mas.

Still heading for a crash, sometime

Mr Mas and his allies made clear on Sunday that they now feel emboldened to press ahead with a controversial plan to separate Catalonia from Spain over the next 18 months. Winning 72 out of 135 seats in the regional parliament, he said, gave “strength and legitimacy” to the campaign. As long as a deal can be thrashed out between Junts pel Si and CUP, the parliament will now issue a declaration stating its intention to launch the process towards independence. The government in Barcelona may also decide to move ahead with the creation of state-like structures, for instance a Catalan foreign ministry and tax authority. “The Catalan parliament is likely to start adopting symbolic moves towards independence, thus continuing the ongoing game of chicken with Spain’s central government,” said Antonio Barroso, in a research note for Teneo, the risk consultancy. Sunday’s result gave Mr Mas no reason to abandon this plan — but it did make clear that he will have to proceed cautiously.

One obstacle is his dependence on CUP. The other is the fact that the independence camp fell short of winning a 50 per cent majority of votes — handing its adversaries in Madrid and Barcelona a strong argument to resist the push for secession. Catalan hopes that the election would send a clear signal to the rest of Europe, and so encourage outside mediation, are also likely to be disappointed. Until the Spanish general election in December, which may or may not bring about a change in attitude towards Catalonia, there will be no fundamental change in the dynamics of the conflict.

Tobias Buck

Fonte: FT