Catalonia election: pro-independence parties increase majority

Catalan Socialist party finishes first as secessionists win more than half the vote on turnout of only 53%

Catalan pro-independence parties have increased their parliamentary majority following a regional election in which the unionist Socialists took the largest share of the vote and the far-right Vox party outperformed its conservative rivals to win its first seats in the northeastern Spanish region.

Sunday’s election was overshadowed by the Covid pandemic and dominated by the continuing debate over independence that has shaped and divided Catalan politics for the past decade.

For the first time, pro-independence parties took more than half the votes, winning 51% – up from 47.5% in the last regional election in December 2017. Between them, they now hold 74 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament, an increase of four seats.

The Catalan Socialist party (PSC) finished first, winning 33 seats – up from 17 last time – and 23% of the vote. It was followed by the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which took 33 seats and 21.3% of the vote, and the centre-right, pro-independence Together for Catalonia party, which came third with 32 seats and 20% of the vote.

Vox, which is the third biggest party in the national parliament, won 11 seats, breaking into the Catalan parliament for the first time and taking more seats than its rivals in the conservative People’s party (PP) and the centre-right Citizens party combined. The election was a humiliating event for both parties: Citizens, which finished first in 2017 with 36 seats, dropped to just six, while the PP – for decades the hegemonic party of the Spanish right – slumped from four seats to three.

En Comú Podem, the coalition that includes the regional branch of the far-left anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, retained its eight seats, and the pro-independence anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy won nine.

The poll was triggered last September after the region’s separatist president, Quim Torra, was banned from office for displaying pro-independence symbols on public buildings during the 2019 general election campaign.

With the election over, attention will now focus on the formation of the new regional government.

Torra hailed the results as a “resounding pro-independence victory”, while Laura Borrás, the Together for Catalonia candidate, said the fact that pro-independence parties had won more than 50% of the vote for the first time “has to have consequences for both the government and the parliament”.

Former Catalan president Quim Torra.
Former Catalan president Quim Torra hailed the results as a ‘resounding pro-independence victory’ Photograph: Enric Fontcuberta/EPA

But Salvador Illa, the former Spanish health minister who ran as the PSC candidate, said he would seek to be invested as regional president, adding: “The meaning of my victory is very clear – it’s time to turn the page.”

Spain’s prime minister, the Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, tweeted congratulations to his former colleague. “Socialism has won the election,” he wrote. “Fantastic news for making change and reunion possible. Thank you, Salvador Illa, for giving us back the dream of forging a better future for Catalonia and Spain.”

Jéssica Albiach, the En Comú Podem candidate, said she would speak to Illa and the ERC candidate, Pere Aragonès, in the hope of forming a tripartite leftwing government.

Sunday’s election comes almost three-and-a-half years after the pro-independence regional government of the then president Carles Puigdemont pitched Spain into its worst political crisis in decades by defying repeated warnings from the Spanish government and courts to stage an illegal, unilateral independence referendum.

The issue of Catalan independence has faded over the past two years as splits grew between separatist factions.

The ERC favours a more moderate and negotiated strategy to achieve independence, but Together for Catalonia has opted for a more confrontational approach in order to maintain pressure on the central government and keep its base motivated.

The region remains fairly evenly split over the issue. According to a recent survey, 47.7% of Catalans are against independence and 44.5% in favour.

PSC’s candidate Salvador Illa said he would seek to be invested as regional president.
PSC’s candidate Salvador Illa said he would seek to be invested as regional president. Photograph: Toni Albir/EPA

Illa has vowed to heal divisions and “stitch Catalonia back together” if elected, but pro-independence parties responded to the PSC’s strong showing in pre-election polls by agreeing not to make any deals that would help it into government.

Aragonès, who serves as Catalonia’s acting president, has dismissed Illa’s approach as “amnesia” and argued that his party will not “turn the page” while independence leaders remain in prison over their role in the doomed attempt at secession.

However, although Aragonès said that taking 50% of the vote would be a boost to the independence movement, he added there would be no immediate rush towards unilateral independence. “We’ve always maintained that it’s better to agree on a referendum with Spain,” he told Reuters.

Sunday’s turnout was 53% – vastly down on December 2017, when it stood at 79%. Many people were reluctant to vote because of the continuing third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the cold, wet weather. However, more than 270,000 people requested a postal vote – three times as many as at the last election.

Contributors

Sam Jones in Madrid and Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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