Catalan voters back secession parties in Spain
Separatist parties were the winners in Sunday's (25 November) regional election in Catalonia, which saw the highest voter turnout ever in Spanish regional elections.
The new parliament still favours a referendum on independence, something Madrid has said it will oppose.
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The governing centre-right alliance party Convergència i Unio (CiU) won 50 seats out of 135 in the Catalan parliament, followed by the left-wing separatist party Esquerra Republicana with 21 seats.
In total, the seats in the new parliament that favour the “right to decide” on independence from Spain is nearly two-thirds with 87 while 48 are against – only a slight change from before the election (86 to 49).
Catalan President Artur Mas will continue to lead the northeastern region in Spain, but his victory was a bitter one, as his party lost 12 seats compared to the election in 2010 when CiU came into power. Mas called for snap elections to give legitimacy to his plan for a Catalan referendum on independence from Spain. He had hoped his party would be elected as the clear leader for such a process.
Although parties in favour of the "right to decide" on independence have been legitimised, the governing CiU failed to get the absolute majority (68) they had hoped for.
Instead, Mas has paid for the severe cuts in public spending – especially in health and education – his government has made in the last two years. The party’s recent move to the separatist camp might also have failed to convince voters whether CiU really wants independence or if it is a populist move.
“I intend to carry out this consultation [on independence],” Mas said after the election.
In a warning to the conservative government in Madrid, Mas said: “Those who want to impede that process must keep in mind that … the sum of the political formations that are in favour of the right to decide has the majority in the Parliament by far."
The government in Madrid was quick to comment saying that “Mas’ separatist programme was a failure”.
Meanwhile, Esquerra Republicana, headed by Oriol Junqueras, jumped 11 seats up from being the fifth biggest party to the second biggest party in the Catalan Parliament.
“This election has strengthened the process towards independence for Catalonia,” Jonqueres said on Sunday night.
The Socialist Party, which favours a more federal Spain, came in third with 20 seats (down from 28); Partido Popular, which currently governs in Madrid and which favours a more centralist Spanish state came in fourth gaining one seat.
For its part, the green-left ICV, which favours a referendum but is still undecided on independence, came in fourth with 13 seats. The non-nationalist Ciutadans party, which wants to stay with Spain, got nine seats; and a new extreme left and independentist party CUP won three seats.
Almost 70 percent of Catalans went to the ballot boxes on Sunday – the highest ever in a Spanish regional election.
The potential road to independence is unlikely to be straightforward, however.
Madrid is against a break-up and the Catalans themselves are cautious when it comes to a change in relations with the European Union. If Catalonia were to become independent, it may have to re-apply for EU membership - a long and cumbersome process.