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Post Catalonia Elections
Created by John Eipper on 11/27/12 1:00 PM

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Catalonia Elections (Jordi Molins, -Spain, 11/27/12 1:00 pm)

The electoral results for the 2012 Catalan regional elections were:

87 seats of the Catalan Parliament went to political parties supporting a referendum for independence (2.14 million votes, with an increase of 345k votes since the last 2010 Catalan elections). 48 went went to unionist political parties (1.33 million votes, with an increase of 185k votes). In other words, 64% of the Catalan Parliament supports asking the Catalan population about their future, with one more seat than previously (in other words, the unionists have lost one seat).

Let me emphasize this issue: unlike many statements from the Spanish nationalists, these elections were not referring to the question, "Do you want Catalonia to become independent, yes or no?" but rather, "Do you believe Catalan citizens should have the right to decide democratically about their future, yes or no?" Unionist political parties believe there should not be democracy here, and Catalan citizens should not be allowed to decide for themselves about their future. Unionist political parties only agree with democracy when the results of that democracy are in their favour. Otherwise, they prefer to tell their citizens "shut up," as in this case.

Let me emphasize also that the participation rate this time was the highest ever. Traditionally, some unionists did not vote in the Catalan regional elections (but they voted in the Spanish general elections). This time, due to its importance, unionists voted at the same rate as in the general elections. But even in this case, unionists have lost ground. Also, it is important to notice that about 150k young Catalans living abroad (due to the crisis; mostly in Germany, the UK and the US, but other places, too) were unable to vote this time due to, apparently, inefficiencies at the Spanish Embassies. Young Catalans who have recently left Catalonia are very often highly educated and overwhelmingly independentists (the relationship between more education and independentism is robust). Of course, I am 100% sure the Spanish central government has done all it could to allow these young Catalans to vote, but it was really impossible for them to do it, since as everybody knows, postal services between Western countries and Spain are prone to fail and it takes weeks, if not months, to receive letters from abroad. Let me remind WAISers that the Spanish army flew a few fighter planes at very low altitude just a few days before the Catalan elections along a big part of Catalan territory, something unheard of before.

The not obvious key to understanding what has happened in these elections is to understand that there were two dimensions at play: on the one hand, sovereignty; on the other hand, austerity.

As discussed, the sovereignty issue is obvious: 64% of the Catalan Parliament is in favour of letting the Catalan people decide about their future (while 36% of the Catalan Parliament prefers the "shut up" solution). There was even a slight increase this time. Participation has been at all-time high. It is obvious Catalan people want to have a say about their political future. I disagree with John Eipper here when he suggested the European Union would not allow Catalonia to become independent without leaving the EU.

The real issue here has been austerity: in the same way as in the recent elections in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, the incumbent political party (the party responsible for austerity) has been penalized severely. But unlike the four cases quoted above, this penalization has not implied a change of government, just that the incumbent has lost some seats. In this case, Convergència i Unió, the incumbent center-right political party, has lost 12 seats, from 62 to 50 (68 seats imply an absolute majority). Instead, Esquerra Republicana, the independentist left-wing political party, has won 11 seats, from 10 to 21, becoming the second political party in the Catalan Parliament, with almost two-and-a-half times fewer seats than the winner. Let me emphasize that the two biggest political parties now at the Catalan Parliament are independentists (as in the Basque Country, with PNV and Bildu), and the two big Spanish nationalist political parties, dominating Spanish politics, the Socialists and the Popular Party, rank only third and fourth, respectively, with the former Communists not far behind. Two other small political parties (Ciutadans, occupying the Lerrouxist position, i.e. Spanish nationalism, left wing, and CUP, very left wing, independentists), also significantly increased their number of votes.

The territorial composition is also interesting: I would say that about 98% of the Catalan territory (measured by area of municipalities) has voted for sovereignty political parties. There are only three exceptions: the towns around Barcelona, where Spaniards overwhelmingly settled during the big immigration from Spain to Catalonia (like my family), but interestingly, not Barcelona itself, which has voted for independentism. The towns around Tarragona, where many Spaniards work in the oil industry. And the Vall d'Aran, with its own language and culture (Occitan). The rest, put on a map, shows an overwhelming independentist decision. In the same way that Romney probably failed with the votes of some minorities, and the Republicans will have to do some work there, we Catalans will have to do some work in those areas (and I know this, since my family comes from that background).

To sum up: the incumbent political party has suffered due to its role in applying austerity. Instead, smaller political parties not tainted by austerity have won votes and seats: 13 new seats for left-wing, independentist political parties vs. the 12 lost by Convergencia (and the 1 seat lost by the unionists). The left has improved its results, but much less than in other European peripheral elections in recent times. The extreme right, luckily, has again ended up with no seats at the Catalan Parliament.

Regarding John Eipper's question about the Balearics and Sardinia: I do not think we Catalans will want an Imperialist approach to other Catalan-speaking territories (Valencia, the Balearics, the South of France up to Montpelier, and the city of Alguer in Sardinia; one also could include a big area of the South of France if one considers that Occitan and Catalan form the same language, which is the opinion of some linguists). I believe our attitude should be to have our arms open for cultural and economic relationships with those territories, without having any kind of imperialist power imposed on them. I just believe some of these territories, especially the Balearics, could decide in the future to willingly join Catalonia if Catalonia becomes independent and the Balearics keep being mistreated by Spain (the fiscal deficit of the Balearics is even higher than for Catalonia: more than 11% of the Balearic GDP is siphoned off every year from the Balearics into Madrid vs 8% for Catalonia, or about 5% for Valencia).

JE comments:  Many thanks to Jordi Molins for this excellent summary.  Two questions:  do Convergència and Esquerra Republicana see the independence question as more important than their right-left political divisions, meaning (to use the US terminology) will the parties "reach across the aisle" and cooperate on pursuing independence?  And finally, how can the EU go against the Spanish constitution and accept an independent Catalonia as a member state?  (See Henry Levin's comments of 27 November.)

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