17th Sep 2021

Separatist victory in Catalan election sees calls for dialogue

  • Sunday’s elections saw a low turnout of 53 percent due to the pandemic (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

Catalonia's separatist parties won more than half of the votes for the first time in Sunday's parliamentary regional election (14 February) - triggering renewed calls for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona for a political solution to the independence conflict.

The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), under its candidate former national health minister Salvador Illa, almost doubled their representation in the assembly, taking 33 seats in the Catalan parliament - up from 17 in 2017.

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The regional branch of Spain's ruling Socialist party fell short in besting pro-independence parties, which now hold 74 of the 135 seats in the assembly.

"This tendency confirms that the independence movement is becoming more and more consistent. The support for this political project is big and keeps growing," the representative of the Catalonian government to the EU, Meritxell Serret, said on Monday.

"Those who defend a political dialogue are in a large majority," she added, arguing that "the political conflict has not ended".

Meanwhile, far-right Vox - the third-biggest party in the national parliament - won 11 seats, entering the regional parliament for the first time as the fourth-largest political force, and the largest single force rejecting all and any form of Catalan independence.

After winning the 2017 election, support for the Ciudadanos (Citizens) party has collapsed. The liberal party saw their vote fall from 25.3 percent to 5.5 percent, and consequently dropping from 36 seats to just six.

Presidential bid

Based on those results, a repeat coalition government with the two main separatist parties - Catalan Republican Left (ERC) with 33 seats and Together for Catalonia (JxCat) on 32 seats - seems to be the most-likely scenario.

However, tensions and differences from recent years over the independence conflict might make negotiations difficult.

The ERC has been supporting Spain's prime minister Pedro Sanchez in exchange for dialogue over the independence conflict, while JxCat leader and former regional premier Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after heading the failed secession attempt three years ago, has been advocating for the defence of the right to self-determination without a political solution.

Moreover, the support of the small anti-capitalist CUP party is now key - since its nine seats in the Catalan parliament are needed to have a pro-independence parliamentary majority.

"If ERC is going to lead next government, the strategy then will probably be more clear toward finding a political solution through dialogue, while trying to push for amnesty and a referendum," said Serret.

Meanwhile, socialist candidate Salvador Illa, who was in charge of Spain's coronavirus response as his health minister, has also announced his candidature for Catalan president, calling for a "reconciliation" after the independence conflict which has dragged on for decades.

"It is time to turn the page, to write a new chapter, to reach out to one another and advance together," said Illa.

"A change is coming in Catalonia and there is no going back," he added.

Low turnout

Sunday's elections were marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a low turnout of 53 percent, down from 79 percent of the previous election in December 2017.

By comparison, Portuguese presidential elections under Covid-19 in 2021 had a 39 percent of the turnout.

Nevertheless, over 270,000 people requested a postal vote - a threefold increase compared to the last election.

Many people refused to vote due to the coronavirus pandemic in Catalonia, which has seen a total of 535,395 people infected and 20,214 deaths.

A quarter of the 82,251 citizens, who were selected to monitor the polls, requested to be excused from their duty over fears amid the third wave of the pandemic.

As precautionary measures, people's temperatures were taken on arrival, hand gel was widely available, voting was organised in time slots, and election monitors were protected with face masks and full-body suits.

During the last final hour of voting, people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases were able to vote.


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