The Concerns behind a Finely-Balanced Political Landscape

With the new regional elections to be held this month (December 21) and official campaigning starting this Tuesday, Catalonia is deep in election mode. A variety of new and old players are running in the elections: some abroad, some in jail, and some on bail. One particular man will have to run his campaign for now from behind bars.

After six separatist leaders were released on bail, four politicians and activists were denied bail by a Supreme Court Judge on December 4, 2017. This includes former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, who leads the left-republican Esquerra Repúblicana (ERC) party. The ERC is currently doing well in the polls, but we all are aware of this accuracy. Catalonia’s ex-president, Carles Puigdemont, plans to run in the elections while exiled in Belgium with four former Catalonian officials. Their fate will be decided on December 14 by a Belgian Court who may extradite them to Spain. There is a caveat — they will still be able to appeal the decision, lengthening the amount of time on their jail-free card. Puigdemont’s lawyer even suggested that the whole process may take until after the elections and possibly even Mid-January. 

Surprisingly adept at changing colors to match the situation, many Catalonians have already switched their focus to this new election overseen by the Spanish central government. While this shows good faith in democracy, the results may be quite divisive — pitting those for and against independence against each other.

Junqueras and Catalonia’s former interior minister, along with two separatist activists, remain in jail. However, it is interesting to note that Junqueras has pledged to suspend all independence efforts after being freed. My concern is that his going back on this pledge would seriously inhibit the legitimacy of the Catalonian independence movement. Even the judge cited this doubtful statement as a justification for Junqueras’ continued stay behind bars. How can the leader of a pro-independence party vow against the main message of ERC and his main attraction to voters?

There are three pro-independence parties running separately in the special election, thus possibly reflecting strident party lines within the Catalan public. Puigdemont is aiming at the hardline pro-independence voter who may not want to lessen their demands for a Catalan self-determined republic and therefore, opposed to the softer strategy of the ERC. 

According to an opinion poll released on Monday by the Center for Sociology Research, a pro-Spain party is expected to win the most votes. Ciudadanos, the dominant unionist party, has a strong platform against independence but will have difficulty forming a ruling coalition like that of Puidgemont’s Catalon Democratic Party. Nevertheless, the unionist parties plan to showcase the current peaceful aftermath of Spain’s direct rule as a political success for both the government and people. 

With data from 3000 people, the poll suggested that separatist parties may lose their absolute majority in regional parliament, winning 66 out of 135 seats. In the last elections in September 2015, they had won 72 seats. A large turnout is expected, since these historic elections may decide the fate of Catalonia and affect the whole of Spain, even Europe. Over 90 percent of interviewees said they will vote, while 30 percent remain undecided on who exactly to vote for. With a multitude of factors up in the air, this is an election with far-reaching implications for pro-independence movements around the world.

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