The Catalans voted for change yesterday in their parliamentary elections after seven years of leftist government. The electoral campaign has been mainly focused on the economic crisis. However, the ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court of late June that declared unconstitutional several articles of the reformed Catalan Statute of Autonomy has also put the relationship between Catalunya and Spain on the political debate.
Hence, apart from the traditional left-right axis, political parties in Catalunya also define themselves in another axis that encompasses both issues of Catalan and Spanish national identities and their preferences on the degree of self-government that the country should have: from being just another Spanish region to achieve independence by becoming an independent state.
The tripartite coalition government suffered a severe loss yesterday. The Socialist Party (PSC) lost 9 seats and had its worst result ever in a Catalan election. The independence supporters of Esquerra (ERC) also were severely punished by their voters, which made them lost more than a half of their seats. The third government partner, the leftist ecologist of Iniciativa (ICV), also lost two seats. On the other hand, there were two clear winners last night. First, the moderate Catalan nationalists of Convergència i Unió (CiU) won a clear majority of 62 seats that will allow them to constitute a minority government. Second, the Spanish right-wing nationalists of the Partido Popular (PP) won 18 seats, so they have become the third political party in the Catalan parliament.
Finally, two small parties will also have seats in the new parliament. First, Ciutadans (C’s), which define themselves as ‘anti-nationalists’, keep their 3 seats. Second, Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència (SCI), led by the former president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, won 4 seats with an electoral manifesto exclusively based on a unilateral declaration of independence.
The negative Catalan economic situation is the key explanatory factor to understand why CiU has won the election. Thus, it is unclear that the Catalan nationalist party has won the election because Catalans are today more nationalist than 4 years ago, as the NY Times seems to imply. It may very well not be the case. As a matter of fact, CiU has taken advantage of the widespread rejection to the tripartite government. Needless to say, that widespread rejection has a lot to do with the economic crisis.
Nevertheless, the national cleavage remains certainly important:
- CIU has claimed during the election campaign that they will demand a greater fiscal autonomy from the Spanish government. Although they do not support explicitly secession, it is worth mentioning that Artur Mas, the party leader, has claimed that the Spanish Estado de las Autonomias has proved inappropriate to accommodate Catalunya after the Constitutional Court ruling on the Statute of Autonomy. Further, he has admitted that he would personally vote in favour of the secession of Catalunya in an eventual referendum.
- It is undoubtedly clear that there is an increasing polarization of national identities in Catalunya:
On one hand, there will be a Catalan nationalist government. Moreover, there are now two secessionist parties in the parliament. There can be little doubt that independence has gained importance in the Catalan (political) debate during last years, mainly as a reaction to Spanish state lack of accommodation and recognition of Catalan national identity.
On the other hand, Spanish nationalist opposition has been strengthened (PP + C’s). Not in vain, it has been the most successful result of PP in a Catalan election. Besides, issues such as the need (or not) to privilege Catalan language and Catalan culture have been more recurrent than ever.
Dani Cetrà & David Martí