New elections loom in Catalonia
By Peter Teffer
The acting president of the Spanish region of Catalonia has said he expects to call for new elections on Monday (11 January), although attempts to form a pro-independence coalition will continue until the last minute.
“On Monday I will sign the decree calling new elections,” acting president Artur Mas said Tuesday (5 January).
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He has been unable to break the deadlock that arose after the 27 September regional elections, which gave pro-independence parties a majority in the Catalan parliament.
While these parties were able to agree on a resolution which declared “the beginning of the process of creating an independent Catalan state as a republic,” they have been unable to form a government.
Centre-right leader Mas needs the support of a far-left party, with whose members he has little in common beyond the goal to break away from Spain.
The anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) wants an independent Catalonia to cease being a member of the European Union and of Nato, and has been critical of Mas' austerity policies.
CUP has said it is prepared to back a coalition government with Mas' Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) party, but not with Mas at its helm.
The far-left party won 10 seats in the September elections, of the parliament's 135. Mas needs the support of two of its MPs, but in several votes the party has decided against a Mas-led coalition.
Despite the decision to announce elections, Mas added coalition talks will continue until Sunday, the last possible date for agreement before new elections are required to be called.
“I have less hope than a week ago, but while there is life, there is hope,” said Mas according to Spanish paper El Pais. “The government, and I as president, we are prepared for elections. It is not the scenario we want, but if there is no solution, we will have to do it.”
If Mas calls for regional elections on Monday, they will likely be held on Sunday 6 March.
The big question will be if pro-independence parties will win a majority of seats again, or whether newcomer Podemos will repeat the success it had in December in national elections. Left-wing Podemos is in favour of an independence referendum, but would campaign for Catalonia to stay in.
Meanwhile, the CUP is being torn apart over the issue. Its leader Antonio Banos announced Monday (4 January) he would resign.
Although Banos had originally promised not to back a Mas-led government, he more recently became an advocate of such a grand separatist alliance.
“Once a pro-independence majority was obtained on 27 September, I understood that our explicit mandate was to begin the break with the [Spanish] state without further ado,” Banos said in a letter according to El Pais. Following repeated rejections by the party however, he said he could no longer continue as CUP leader.
“I am leaving because I feel unable to defend the position adopted by the majority,” added Banos.
Meanwhile in Madrid
Meanwhile in the Spanish capital Madrid, the country's acting prime minister said he feels new elections are the only way forward.
“I sincerely don't know what could possibly happen in the next five days, but I believe that the best that could happen is that Mas drops his independence drive and, as that doesn't seem possible, there's no alternative to elections,” said Mariano Rajoy.
New regional elections would not be a bad thing for the centre-right Rajoy, who has vowed to keep Catalonia inside Spain, and whose Popular Party's Catalan sister party lost eight of its 19 seats in September.
Following the Catalan 'road to independence resolution' last year, Rajoy's government requested the Constitutional Court to suspend the parliamentary text, which it did.
Meanwhile, coalition talks at national level are also ongoing, following an election outcome in December that produced no clear winner.
Rajoy's party came out as the largest party, but lost heavily compared to the previous election. Two newcomers, left-wing Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos, redrew the political landscape, but are at odds with the two establishment parties on what coalition to form.
On Tuesday, Rajoy very carefully suggested a coalition with Ciudadanos and the socialists as a “possible government”, but the gaps between these parties is still large.
One of the few things they have in common is the opposite of the majority in Catalonia: opposition to a break-up of the state of Spain.