Antoni Bassas’ analysis: Oriol Junqueras and the old Convergència discourse

Rufián’s speech this week is the perfect summary of Junqueras’ political thinking

The most upsetting aspect of Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias’ failure to form a coalition government in Spain is that when elections were held three months ago the PSOE scared everyone by warning that a right-wing coalition —with the backing of Vox, the up-and-coming far-right party— was a real possibility. Do you recall that fear? Do you recall how relieved so many felt when it turned out that the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox hadn’t won enough seats in Madrid’s parliament [to govern together]? How can Sánchez play down the sense of urgency that the PSOE instilled in people, the burden of responsibility placed on voters to thwart a hypothetical three-party right-wing coalition? Now, just as the possibility of forming a left-wing PSOE-Podemos government was within their reach, PM Pedro Sánchez aims to persuade the PP and Ciudadanos to abstain [in the vote to confirm him as PM], while he scorns Podemos. In turn, Pablo Iglesias’ party cannot understand that entering into a coalition agreement would be not just a political victory, but a historic milestone. Eventually we have learnt that Pedro Sánchez never wanted a coalition agreement with Podemos, less so with the support of Esquerra Republicana. And we have also learnt that the powers-that-be still play a key role.

Anyway, I don’t know who told Pedro Sánchez that a snap election in November will win him a wider majority when, in fact, the disappointment caused by his failed bid to be re-elected in parliament might put off many voters.

They have August and September to find a way to undo the muddle. The other night a sheepish Pedro Sánchez was on Telecinco begging the PP, Ciudadanos and Podemos to reach an understanding that will avert fresh elections: “I feel it is very important to realise that on April 28 the people told us it was very important to start a dialogue that would lead to an agreement. We must explore several paths. We have gone down one and, indeed, it’s turned out to be a dead end. But that doesn’t mean we’ve got to the end of the road and we have no choice but to go to the polls again. That’s why I’d like to encourage the PP, Ciudadanos and Podemos to work with the PSOE, ignoring partisan interests, so that together we can ensure that Spain has a government and we can sort out this situation, the sooner, the better”.

As you can see, Catalonia does not factor into the equation. Sánchez would hate to be accused of holding office thanks to the Catalan pro-independence parties. In fact, on Thursday he made it very clear that he was grateful to Esquerra for abstaining “in exchange for nothing”. Nobody will argue that Rufián’s address in parliament was historic. I’m not exaggerating: Esquerra’s parliamentary spokesman solemnised, live on tv, Esquerra’s transformation into a party that shows statesmanship in Spain whilst keeping the Catalan interest at heart and, of course, attending to its own electoral needs. Just like Pujol’s old Convergència used to do. Esquerra displayed a sense of statesmanship because it offered to help form a left-wing alliance in Madrid, even though its president (Oriol Junqueras) is in jail and Junqueras’ deputy (Marta Rovira) is in exile. It showed that it keeps Catalonia’s interests at heart because by being useful in Madrid and shunning unilateral action, they attempt to lure as many Catalans as possible towards republicanism and independence, as president Jordi Pujol did for Catalonia’s language, symbols and devolved powers. And, inevitably, Esquerra looks after its own electoral interests because there is an ongoing struggle in Catalonia with JuntsxCatalunya to see which party will become top dog and Esquerra is hoping to snatch the presidency of the Generalitat from them at the earliest opportunity. Rufián’s speech this week is the perfect summary of Junqueras’ political thinking.

The three-month political period that culminated this week with a frustration in the Spanish parliament might prompt some to think that this democracy’s ills are incurable, that it is dysfunctional. But, to quote Giovanni Sartori, it’s not democracy’s fault. Democracy is a good locomotive. The problem lies with the engine drivers.

Free the political prisoners, the indicted and the exiles.

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