This Sunday, Catalonians went to polls to renew their parliament, consequence of the announcement of early elections by Artur Mas, two months ago.
These elections looked like a referendum about the independence of Catalonia, the richest province of Spain. Indeed, it was the central topic of the campaign put forward by Artur Mas, the Generalitat president and Convergencia i Unio (CiU) leader and wished to send a clear signal to Madrid and the Mariano Rajoy conservative government, leaning on a part of the Catalonian population more and more in favour of a secession with Spain.
Analysing the results, Artur Mas seems to succeed his challenge but he is far the objectives he targeted. His coalition is ahead (with 50 MPs) but lost a dozen of seats in comparison with 2010. Esquerra republican de Catalunya (ERC, the Catalonian Separatist Left) enjoys the decline of CiU with 21 seats and becomes the real winner of the ballot to the detriment of the Catalonian Socialists (PSC, 20 seats) and the Conservatives (Partido Popular, 19 seats) who made some progress however.
The Catalonian head of government is obliged to find a compromise with the ERC to lead his project of independence for Catalonia. Indeed, the separatist leader hoped an absolute majority to act freely and get a better power struggle vis-à-vis Mariano Rajoy. To be reminded, the PP leader and head of the Spanish government refused, on the last September, the fiscal autonomy demanded by Catalonia in the same capacity as Basque Country, to face with the crisis which still hits the province, considering its financial contribution to the Kingdom as too much important moreover.
With early elections, Mas hoped establish a new power struggle in favour of his province and call Madrid‘s bluff. In a context of strong separatist breakthrough in the province – symbolized by a grand rally in Barcelona of about 1 million of people according to the organizers – Mas wanted to enjoy this success and shake the sceptre of independence to make Madrid give in better. Such a strategy involved the promise of a referendum on the status of the province in 2014, in spite of the opposition of the central government who bases on the Constitution which does not plan such a provision.
The Left separatists’ breakthrough partially changes the situation for president Mas insofar as he needs the ERC to lead his projects in optimal conditions. The logic would ERC and CiU to make an agreement about the holding of the auto-determination referendum. Nonetheless, the progress of the ERC is a kind of disown for the outgoing Catalonian government who has led an austerity policy for a moment to reduce the abyssal deficit of the province, undermined by a high unemployment rate. It is highly probable the ERC will demand some clear guarantees regarding the economic and social orientations of the future government, condition sine qua none to consider a ruling coalition, indispensable for the CiU and Mas to govern anyway.
The Artur Mas’ relative victory will probably have major impacts on the CiU strategy. Results show Catalonian voters, although seduced by the separatist option, are not ready to this path and put their destiny in the hands of a party yet, especially taking into account the political and economic aftermath. The CiU and Artur Mas will have to answer to the Catalonian people’s concerns about social and economic policies before thinking about and defending independence. To be clear, a referendum some time in 2014 seems to be questioned, Mas having to get a solid ruling coalition to maintain himself at power and get in better position vis-à-vis Rajoy.