Quick reflections on the Catalan election 2017

The first significant outcome of the election is that Ciutadans is today the most voted party in Catalonia. Ciutadans is a Spanish nationalist party located in the centre-right that defends the current constitution and status quo against independence. Led by Inés Arrimadas it has increased 7 percentage points with respect to 2015 and now gathers 27% of the valid votes and 37 seats. This confirms that the Catalan electorate is becoming increasingly polarized along the national conflict.

The second significant outcome of the election is that pro-independence parties maintain 48% of the vote, which due to the electoral system (with a strong under-representation of Barcelona, the district with lowest support for Independence) allows them to get a majority of seats (70 over 135). This support for pro-independence parties (JxC, ERC or CUP) has been very stable along time and has not vanished in spite of the many questionable things the former pro-independence government has done. The increase in participation (to an all time record of 82%) has not altered the fact that a bit less of half of Catalan voters choose a pro-independence party. Everyone needs to accept that this large level of support for independence from Spain is there no matter what.

The division of support between the two blocks remains stable and strongly conditioned by language and origin. The changes compared to 2015 have to do with movements within these blocks. Among the pro-independence block, Junts per Catalunya (list led and designed by former president Puigdemont now in Brussels and including Jordi Sanchez -former leader of the ANC now in preventive prison- and many candidates from PDeCAT, formerly CiU) unexpectedly wins 34 seats, more than the 32 that go to Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (led by former vice-president Junqueras, currently in jail). JxC has capitalized the application of article 155, highly unpopular in Catalunya. The CUP, a radical left party advocating for the unilateral way to independence, has suffered a severe loss from 10 to 4 seats. One of the readings of this result is that socially-conservative independentists have won the competition within the pro-independence block, which is of course very bad news for the left in general. A transversal left coalition (including all left parties) would have been extremely difficult even if the numbers made it possible, but it is  mathematically impossible with this result.

Among the block of parties that are against independence from Spain the support has concentrated in Ciutadans. Here also the right wins, even if the Popular Party is heavily damaged by the suspension of self-government institutions implemented by Rajoy, keeping only 3 of the 11 seats it had in 2015. This will be interpreted with a Spanish perspective: until now the PP has electorally benefited in Spain from nourishing the Catalan conflict, but now it seems they are not the only ones that could take advantage. The rise of Ciudadanos in Spain is a serious threat for the PP. It is however hard to think that the PP will interpret this in a way that facilitates a compromising solution in terms of a constitutional reform, or even reducing pressure in the ongoing prosecution of pro-independence politicians. I hope I am wrong on this.

PSC has managed to increase one seat, but Catalunya en Comú-Podem loses three. The difficult situation of CeC-P (with a divided rank and file regarding independence but advocating for a referendum and a transversal left government) shows in this results. CeC-P and PSC are the two parties more likely to be able to build bridges between the more extreme positions and the election result does not reinforce them. It does not look like the national conflict is going to lose any salience in the coming months.

The only potential coalition that sums enough seats to form government (68 conform an absolute majority, though in a second round a plurality would be enough) is made of the pro-independence parties. They have profound disagreements both in ideological terms and on they strategy to follow from now on regarding independence. Furthermore, seven of the elected MPS are either in preventive prison, or in Brussels and likely to be sent to jail as soon as they come back to Spain (including would be president Puigdemont). MPs in jail would be able to vote for a president, but they would not be able to participate regularly in parliamentary activities. It would be complicated to keep a sufficient parliamentary majority in these circumstances.

If government stability seems complicated, a solution of the Catalan conflict in Spain looks further away than ever with this results at hand and with the explosive ongoing mixture of political and judicial processes.

In short, the result of this election is not promising in terms of conflict de-escalation in Catalunya, nor in terms the likelihood of a stable government that can put an end to years of “processisme” (the never-ending process to independence that makes impossible for anything else to get into the political agenda), nor in terms of potential advances towards the solution of the Catalan problem in Spain. It seems to me that the inability of a political elite to manage this question may become another (sad) reason to call yet once more for an agreed referendum. But this seems to be highly improbable if not impossible as well.

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