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DESPITE LOW TURNOUT DUE TO PANDEMIC FEARS, THE THREE CATALAN INDEPENDENTIST PARTIES TOGETHER HAVE A COMFORTABLE ABSOLUTE MAJORITY
Despite the Covid19 pandemic and bad weather causing a low turnout for the elections to the Government (Govern) of the Catalan Autonomous Region, elected representatives of political parties for Catalan independence won a comfortable absolute majority of their Parlament and, for the first time in recent history, won more than 50% of the total votes cast.
It is worth noting that although most of the Spanish and much of the European media (including shamefully the Irish) is referring to the victors in this election as “separatists” this is not the correct term and implies or at least leaves open to interpretation that there is some basis for their campaign other than a historic nation seeking independence. The Irish over centuries were not “separatists” with regard to England and the United Kingdom, they were independentists. And those Irish parties that wanted to remain with the UK were — and are – unionists, with a parallel too in the elections in Catalonia.
In a Parlament of 135 seats (absolute majority 68 minimum), the results are:
Total seats: 74
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, traditional left-republican party of various trends)
33 seats (up one) 21.4% votes cast
JxCat (Junsts per Catalunya, independentist party consisting of various trends with origins in alliance with right-wing Catalan nationalist party PdeCat but split from them last year)
32 seats (up 12) 20.0% votes cast
CUP (Convergencia Unida Popular, a confederation of left-wing groups mostly active on a community and municipal level)
9 seats (up 5) 6.67% votes cast
Total seats: 53
PSC (Catalan branch of the Partido Socialista Obrero de Espana, social-democratic main government party in the Spanish State)
33seats (up 16) 13.9 % of votes cast
PP (Partido Popular, formed by Franco supporters after the Dictator’s death, main government party in the Spanish State after PSOE)
3 seats (down one) 3.8 % of votes cast
Cs (Ciutadans, Spanish unionist party formed by split from the PP)
6 seats (down 30) 5.6 % of votes cast
Vox (Spanish fascist and unionist party formed by split from PP and Ciutadans)
11 seats, 7.7 % of votes cast
Total seats: 8 seats (no change) 6.87 % of votes cast
ECP (En Comú Podem [“Communs”], coalition of Podemos, Izquierda Unida etc, left-social democrats and trotskyists, in theory supporting the right to independence but in practice rarely supporting the independentists).
Most of Catalonia is currently part of the Spanish state, with a small part around Pau, in the southern French state. Catalonia has its own political history and national language, Catalan but its autonomy was ended in conquest by the Bourbons of the Spanish Kingdom in 1741 and its language discriminated against. In 1936 the workers of Barcelona, the capital city, rose and defeated the forces of the Spanish military-fascist coup against the elected Popular Front Government of Spain. But after the victory of the military-fascist forces in 1939 in the Spanish Antifascist War, Catalonia, which had sided with the Government on a promise of autonomy, suffered repression, its leaders and supporters executed and language banned.
Catalonia is also considered by many to be part of the Paisos Catalans (Catalan Countries), which include the regions such of Valencia and the Balearic islands, where dialects of Catalan are spoken.
Although a small part of the Spanish State in terms of land and population, Catalonia is one of the most economically successful regions of the Spanish State. A wish for national independence gained renewed political support during the recent decade, growing apace when the Spanish State greatly reduced Catalan autonomy in a reinterpretation of the Statute of Autonomy in respect of Catalonia. Grassroots movements in favour of independence grew hugely, in particular the ANC and Omnium; they organised a referendum on independence to take place on 1st October 2017. The Spanish State sent its militarised police to seize ballot boxes and attack voters and protesters. Subsequently the Spanish State jailed the leaders of the Independentist party ERC, the grassroots organisations ANC and Omnium, along with politicians. It issued arrest warrants for a number of others, including the President of the Government and leader of JuntsXCat party and a leading activist of CUP, all of whom are currently in exile. 700 Town Mayors are under investigation for their role in the referendum and activists are in jail or on trial for their activities in protests and one-day general strikes (of which there have been three since 2017).
ELECTION TIMING AND RESULTS
Quim Torra, Puigdemont’s replacement, who had been stripped of his position as President of the Catalan Parliament by a Spanish Court for displaying a banner in support of the political prisoners on a Government building during Catalan municipal elections, had threatened to call snap regional elections; these were expected around October last year but the Covid19 pandemic prevented that plan going ahead.
However, when the Catalan Govern because of the pandemic decided to postpone their elections until this summer,, it was forced by a Spanish State court (at the behest of unionists) to call them for 14th February. That of course led to a low turnout, which usually favours the Right and Unionists, thus making the results even more remarkable.
With the independentist parties achieving more than 50% of the vote for the first time and an overall majority in the Parlament, Catalans favouring independence regard the election results as positive overall. But their pleasure is tempered by the unwelcome gains of the Spanish social democrats of the PSC and the ten seats won for the first time in Catalonia by the fascist Vox party.
The PSC is the Catalan branch of the PSOE, the Spanish social-democratic party currently in government in coalition with Podemos-Izquierda Unida, the latter a kind of trotskyist coalition (of which the Catalan version is “En Comú Podems”) and both parties are essentially Spanish unionist, the PSOE bluntly so and the junior partner in practice.
Although the PSC were no doubt aided by having as a candidate Salvador Illa, the former Minister for Health of the current Government of the Spanish State, it seems that some of the votes to elect the PSC came from pro-Spanish unionist Catalans on the Right, deserting their more natural allegiances in order to achieve a strong unionist and Spanish government presence in the Catalan Parlament. The Catalan traditional unionist Right wing took a hammering, losing 31 seats as the PP went down from four to three seats and their upcoming replacement Ciutadants from 36 to just six. But newcomers and more clearly fascist Vox gained eleven seats. In terms of seats alone, as a crude measure, the PSC and Vox gained seats totalled 44, while PP and Cs together lost 31. Looked at that way, it seems clear that the increase of seats for the social-democratic PSC and the fascist Vox came from right-wing unionists, with a gain of another 13 seats unexplained.
The PSC and Vox successes have been of concern to many Catalan independentists. However those parties reflect existing realities in Catalonia with which the independentist republicans will need to grapple. The vote for Vox illustrates quite starkly that much of the base of the allegedly democratic right-wing conservative Ciutadans was in fact fascist, as suspected by more than a few and it is as well to be aware of it and to have that exposed.
The support for the PSC is a wider problem and, while some of it will remain irreconcilably Spanish Unionist for the foreseeable future, there are probably elements among its voters that are capable of being won over to the independentist position.
As noted earlier, the three republican independentist parties have won a comfortable overall majority, in that they have 74 seats between them, six more than the 68 needed for an absolute majority in the 135-seat Parlament. Even if all the Spanish unionist parties vote together, social democrats voting with Right and Far-Right, they can only outvote the Catalan independentists, in the normal course of events, should one of the latter parties join their vote or abstain, which is hard to imagine occurring.
In the last Parlament, the CUP became a left-opposition to the coalition Govern of ERC and JxCat but never joined the unionist parties in voting against the Govern.
Immediately following the announcement of the results, the Communs leader in effect admitted she would try and split the independentist alliance by asking ERC to join with them and with PSC to form “a left-wing government” which is a shameful use of words since the independentist alliance has put forward more proposals of a socialist nature for Catalonia than have been presented by the PSOE in the state, most of them blocked by the Spanish Constitutional Court and the PSOE is in fact now about to renege on the rent controls it had agreed with its coalition partner. However neither its supporters nor the electorate would be likely to forgive ERC’s leadership should they take such a step and whether tempted or not, they will not go there.
Of course, the Spanish State could reduce the Independentist majority by finding some pretext to jail some of their elected members and such a scenario is far from inconceivable, given the nature of the Spanish State and its recent history in Catalunya. But that would be a very high-risk avenue, even for the Spanish State.
The very likely development is for ERC and JxCat to join in a coalition government, with or without CUP (who might choose to remain in opposition but in “confidence and supply” with the Govern, meaning that they would vote for them if necessary to defeat a vote of the unionist opposition). ERC and JxCat are quite deeply divided on how to proceed in relation to the Spanish State. Although ERC has a longer history of Republican opposition and even some armed struggle through the Terra Lliure resistance, and thinks of itself as “Left”, it is JxCat that has been most resolute in its attitude to the Spanish State. ERC wanted to sit down for talks with Sanchez, Prime Minister and leader of the PSOE, even though Sanchez has stated categorically that independence is not up for negotiation; JvCat ridiculed the very idea. When Sanchez needed other party votes to get his Government’s budget through the Cortes (the Spanish Parliament), ERC gave their votes along with the PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party. And now ERC has asked the Spanish Government to authorise a referendum on Catalan independence which, on past performance, can only be denied. In the absence of getting something substantial in return, JxCat refused to give their votes to support the Spanish Government’s budget (as did the Basque independentist members).
Going into the mid-term future, not only will Catalan independence be forbidden by the Spanish ruling class through its State but many of the measures the Catalan Government has agreed to take around social justice, for equality, against bullfighting and so on, will be frustrated by the Spanish State through its upper courts, as before.
There seems no way forward for the Catalan independentists other than at the very least a sustained campaign of civil disobedience to make Catalonia ungovernable by the Spanish State. In such a situation, it is difficult to imagine the Spanish State not sending its military to occupy the nation and repress the resistance. With whatever response that would arouse among Catalans.
The jailing by the Spanish State of Catalan revolutionary socialist poet-rapper Pablo Hasél on 16th February has led to demonstrations and rioting in Barcelona in which both the Guardia Civil of the Spanish State and the Catalunya police, the Mossos d’Escuadra, have been engaged. The Spanish police have fired rubber bullets which are banned in Catalunya while the Mossos have baton-charged ferociously and, firing foam projectiles, took the eye of a 19-year-old woman. The protests are ongoing.
Over 400 visual artists, also of words and music, have signed a demand for the release of Hasél whose jailing has also been condemned by Amnesty International. Pickets in his support have been organised across the southern Basque Country and Navarran regional police, the Forales, fired rubber bullets at a march in Hasél’s support in Iruna (Pamplona). Other places including Madrid have also seen demonstrations protesting the jailing of the rapper.