Setback for Catalan independence bid
Catalonia’s drive for independence has suffered a setback after regional elections did not give the governing party the majority it was seeking for a clear mandate to break away from Spain.
However, nationalists of different stripes now firmly control the regional parliament, creating concern for the central government in Madrid.
The conservative nationalists of Convergència i Unió (CiU) were the clear winners as expected in yesterday’s vote, ensuring they will remain in power in the northeastern region.
However, with nearly 100 per cent of votes counted, they lost a dozen seats in the Catalan parliament, and at 50 seats fell well short of the 68 needed for a majority.
CiU leader Artur Mas, who is president of the Catalan region, had called on voters to hand his party a resounding victory to allow him to proceed with plans to separate from Spain. He promised a referendum on independence in the next legislature.
As he cast his vote in Barcelona, Mr Mas described the election as the most decisive in the region’s history and he appealed to Catalans to send a “powerful message to the world”. But Mr Mas’s gamble of calling this early election in a bid to win a clear mandate to break away from Spain on his terms appears to have backfired.
The lack of a majority does not necessarily kill the independence project.
CiU officials insisted last night that the referendum would go ahead, given that pro-independence groups now dominate the parliament.
But Mr Mas will almost certainly need to negotiate with other parties to move forward with the plan.
The most likely candidate to team up with his CiU on the referendum scheme is the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which made the biggest gains yesterday.
However, while the ERC and CiU broadly agree on independence, they disagree deeply on other political and social issues and could be uneasy allies.
The conservative Partido Popular (PP) of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy gained an extra seat, meanwhile.
The PP has campaigned fervently in favour of keeping Catalonia within Spain, and it has repeatedly warned that independence – and a unilaterally organised referendum – would breach the constitution.
The Socialists suffered severe losses, having advocated a “third way” for Catalonia in the form of a federal solution offering the region increased autonomy but not full home rule. This poor result follows humiliating defeats for the Socialists in regional votes in Galicia and the Basque Country in October.
The campaign leading up to the vote was fiercely fought, with the independence issue at its heart.
But the closing days of the campaign took a bitter turn following accusations of corruption aimed at Mr Mas.
El Mundo newspaper claimed that a police report showed Mr Mas and some of his political allies had bank accounts in Switzerland containing money siphoned away from public projects. Mr Mas denied the allegations and it later emerged that the cited document was of questionable authenticity.
Mr Mas and his supporters claim the government in Madrid orchestrated the scandal in an attempt to sabotage his chances of securing a majority, thereby hindering the independence movement.