After the narrow win of socialist party candidate Salvador Illa in Catalonia’s regional elections on Sunday (14 February), the first round of negotiations began on Monday to build a new – likely pro-independence – government in Spain’s most prosperous region, EURACTIV’s partner EuroEFE reports.
Illa, Spain’s very popular former health minister took 23% of the ballots, placing his party, the PSC, first in terms of votes. The votes in his party’s favour gave him 33 seats, compared to the 17 PSC obtained four years ago.
“The one who wins the election should make the first move” to try to build a new government, Illa told Spanish public radio Radio Nacional de España (RNE) in an interview on Monday.
The outcome of the results is not so atypical in a region in which the pro-independence movement has been gaining strength in the last 10 years. However, the new Catalan parliament will be the most fragmented in history, with eight parties.
“A new page” in the history of Catalonia?
As political analysts stressed Monday, the “Illa effect” – with his moderate tone in favour of the reconciliation of all Catalans (around 7.5 million) and against the independence of the region – had a clear impact on voters.
Seeing the results come in, Illa said that as regional president he would make “change” effective in Catalonia.
He said the high number of votes received shows that there is a significant number of Catalans who want to “write a new page” in the history of Catalonia, based on dialogue and reunion, EFE reported.
However, the “Illa effect” could be insufficient to overturn the separatist parties in the regional government (the “Generalitat”) and Illa’s objective to build a robust political alternative to the pro-independence bloc – a target set by Spain’s socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez – may just remain a dream, at least for the time being.
Illa’s path to becoming president of the “Generalitat” is extremely difficult since the pro-independence parties had agreed before the election to veto any pact with the PSC.
Illa’s PSC won in terms of votes and even tied with the nationalists of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC). Illa and ERC candidate Pere Aragonès, who is also acting president of the “Generalitat”, obtained 33 seats each.
The other major pro-independence force, the Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), obtained 32 seats, with 68 seats of the 135 total being the majority. The far-left and pro-independence Candidatura de Unidad Popular (Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP), obtained nine seats.
A new pro-independence coalition with ERC as the key element
According to Spanish media, the probability is high that ERC, JxCat, and the CUP would form a bloc and have 75 seats, which is more than sufficient to build a future stable executive, by the end of May, at the latest.
However, the following two scenarios are still possible: a regional executive with a pro-independence gesture or a left-wing coalition. Both options have the ERC as the common denominator, meaning the ERC will have to be the party that has to choose allies.
The ERC, whose leader Oriol Junqueras is one of the imprisoned politicians serving a sentence for secession, could negotiate with JxCat, the party established by the former Catalan president who escaped to Belgium, Carles Puigdemont (32 seats), and the CUP.
Key issues – and non-negotiable ones (for example with the PSC) – include the right to self-determination for Catalonia and amnesty for 12 Catalan separatist politicians who were sentenced for up to 13 years in prison for their role in an illegal independence referendum in 2017. Among the so-called “political prisoners” is Junqueras, who was charged with sedition.
However, despite sharing a goal, the relationships between the parties are not at their best and reaching an agreement won’t be easy, EFE reported.
Catalonia has a strong influence on Spain’s political arena
The final outcome of the negotiations will shape the political stability of Spain, taking into account that the coalition forged by the socialists and left-wing Unidas-Podemos are heading a minority government, which relied on support from the ERC.
Meanwhile, things are moving very fast in the nationalist camp. “We should be able to move forward in the conversations. The deadline for a first vote in the parliament is approximately 12 March, but I hope (an agreement) would be reached well before then,” said Pere Aragonès, who was quoted by Spanish media on Monday.
Far-right party VOX, which had been non-existent in the Catalan parliamentary and political scene, burst into fourth place, and made the “sorpasso” of centre-right Partido Popular (PP) and centre-liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens), with six seats, 30 seats less compared to the regional election held in 2017, when the party was the first political force in Catalonia.
More than 5 million Catalans were called to participate in atypical elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which left unprecedented scenarios due to the security measures that had to be adopted, and also had an impact on participation, which at 53.53% was the lowest in Catalonia elections since the return of democracy in Spain, EFE reported.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]