Elections in Catalonia: Victory of the status quo
26 November 2012
The early regional elections of November 25 marked a decline in the party of Catalonian President Artur Mas, which had focused on winning an absolute majority in order to organise a referendum on independence for the region. In the end, it was the ruling order which prevailed.
The Catalan regional elections were won by Spain. To put it in a more orthodox and precise way, it's the Spanish status quo that won.
The victor has been the ruling order, despite growing disorder throughout the country. The order that has been established in Spain for a very long time. That is going to be very difficult to understanding, accept, and digest, for a large portion of Catalan society, which still make up a clear sovereigntist majority – albeit a sentimental one.
However, the hard reality will take hold as the days, weeks and months go by. The Alpha Party (Partido Popular) of the Spanish middle class, despite the serious challenges posed by the crisis, still has its grip on the steering wheel.
True, there is a sovereigntist majority in the new parliament, which in the coming weeks may produce a coalition government in favour of independence. Convergència i Unió (CiU) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) together hold 71 seats, which is more than enough to cobble together a stable executive, leaving them free to make holding a sovereignty referendum a central plank of their programmes. CiU, despite the whipping it has taken, still enjoys the tactical advantage of being able to sound out another majority government with the Socialists, for a total of 70 deputies.
It could even negotiate PP support for some issues, with the two having 69 seats in total. However the government is formed, CiU will be in it, and if this leads to parliamentary deadlock, new elections could be held in the not too distant future.
Partit de Catalunya
Deeply wounded, the CiU remains the "pal de paller", [the cornerstone] of the nationalist movement. It continues to be the most genuine political voice of the suffering Catalan middle classes. It is still the "Partit de Catalunya", Catalan for Party of Catalonia.
Accordingly, the majority in favour of a referendum on sovereignty goes beyond the sum of the seats for the strongest and second-strongest parties. And the separatist majority, broadly speaking, is still enormous. Nothing will happen in Catalonia in the near future that will truly rock the existing order. Work will be done on forming a stable coalition, approving budgets and governing a huge administrative apparatus that depends on monthly transfers from the Ministry of Finance.
True, the foreign press, especially the British press, is taking a very different reading of the election results than the press in Madrid, where Catalan politics will be radically mocked. The Anglo-Saxons say that a separatist majority, blown to the political left by the crisis, has won in Catalonia. And what will be stressed in the capital of Spain, with no holds barred, will be the failure of Artur Mas.
Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon reading is the more lucid, in European terms, but the truth is that the victor of the Catalan elections has been Spain.
The existing order has won because, despite all its harshness and the "compromising materials" [referring to an article in El Mundo which alleged the family of Artur Mas held Swiss bank accounts] used to frighten the enemy, it is objectively a stronger group. Catalan society despite yearning for a new order, is not united. Catalan independence groups today are a sentimental majority that, when it comes to political realities, find themselves in grave difficulties.
Catalonia is not Holland, which is also highly fragmented politically. When the haggling over the formation of the new government gets underway in a few weeks, its will be perfectly clear who wants to be part of this new executive, forced to make tough sacrifices.
Spain certainly has a problem: a galloping crisis and two sovereigntist parliaments (the Basque and the Catalan), but it is a problem that can be managed. The Basques will do nothing that could truly endanger the positive fiscal balance of an advantageous charter of autonomy, and Catalonia, trapped by the sentimental rhetoric of independence, will become a wasps' nest. Spain comes out the winner. The status quo has triumphed.