Catalan far-left party CUP said today it would not support acting regional head Artur Mas for another term as leader, forcing a fresh round of local elections and weakening an independence movement that seeks a split from Spain.
The drawn-out process of forming a government in Catalonia echoes the political stalemate gripping Spain at a national level following general elections two weeks ago in which no party was handed a clear mandate to lead.
The prospect of new elections in Catalonia, most likely in March, plunges the Spanish electoral landscape into more uncertainty, as the make-up of both the regional and national governments that will be negotiating the future of the wealthy northeastern region are unclear.
CUP, a fringe anti-capitalist party that rejects Catalan membership of Nato and the European Union, has held the key to the formation of the regional government since September elections awarded a majority to pro-independence parties, but it has repeatedly rejected the candidature of Mas, who heads a centre-right, business-friendly party.
At a national level, parties are in talks to form a coalition government in Madrid after Spaniards, disillusioned by recession and high-level corruption cases, turned away from establishment political forces and voted for new parties.
The future of Catalonia is at the centre of those coalition talks. Whether to allow the region a referendum on independence from Spain is a major sticking point preventing a left-wing alliance between newcomer Podemos, which supports a vote, and the Socialists, who don’t.
However, the messy and protracted process to choose a Catalan leader in the aftermath of the September election, hailed at the time as a victory for separatists, has cast a pall over the independence movement and highlighted its divisions.
Separatist fervour has dulled since 2012 when at the height of Spain’s recession around one million people turned out onto the streets of Barcelona clamouring for independence.
A tentative economic recovery has started to chip away at one of the highest unemployment rates amongst developed nations, and Catalan businessmen have warned that political uncertainty in the region could put off investors.
Meanwhile, high-level corruption cases have also touched the independence movement, with former regional president and prominent Catalan nationalist Jordi Pujol charged with money laundering on Wednesday as part of a long-running investigation into his hidden bank accounts.