Messages in a ballot box

The trial affects everything, but in the short-term the pro-independence parties must govern well and continue to win elections with an ever-increasing majority

We have seen the results of the first part of an electoral cycle that in Catalonia will be made up of two and possibly three parts. The political landscape in Spain, Catalonia and Europe for the next few years is beginning to take shape, but it won’t be until Spain’s Supreme Court rules on the independence trial and an election is subsequently held in Catalonia that we will have the full picture. For the time being, however, voters have sent some clear messages.

They did not pass. (1) Fears of a government consisting of three right-wing parties and the adverse effect this would have had on politics and rights have proven unfounded. The right and the far right are currently embroiled in a process of mutual phagocytosis which will collectively lead them to self-destruct. When the PP abandoned its moderate stance under Casado’s leadership, embracing the far-right, spurred on by Ciudadanos’ willingness to follow suit, it signed its own defeat. Now it is banished to the wilderness of an internal struggle to decide whether Casado —whose approach gave the PP its worst results in decades— is to remain as party leader, with the attempts in recent days to lend some credence to the hasty transformation of a young conservative who is trying to distance himself from the far right. Casado may well survive, or the PP might implode and split, before subsequently regrouping with a new direction, or it may simply shrink to the benefit of Ciudadanos’ new right and Vox’s old right.

Ciudadanos succeeded in Spain by capitalising on the right-wing vote. Using Catalonia as a springboard and having definitively abandoned any sign of ambiguity, in the TV debates between candidates Rivera displayed the face of tension which Catalans have seen so many times. Ciudadanos was founded in 2006 as a centre-left, anti-Catalanist party and just three years ago they signed an agreement with PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez, though it ultimately failed to bear fruit. Since then, the party has taken on an overtly anti-Catalanist stance, coupled with its abstention in the vote on the exhumation of Franco’s remains, its call for tax cuts and its acceptance of Vox. Rivera is currently the establishment’s candidate of choice to form a government. Nevertheless, Pedro Sánchez seems set on trying to govern alone.

For some years the Spanish public have been asking themselves what Ciudadanos stands for exactly and why the party is perceived so differently in Barcelona and Madrid. They can finally start to answer the question.

Ciudadanos’ leadership has accomplished its strategy of evolving from king maker to becoming a major party. It is only nine seats, 0.8% and two hundred thousand votes behind the PP. It failed to make progress in Catalonia, but in Spain it gained 80% more seats and a million more votes than in 2016.

The ongoing end to the traditional two-party system. The PP and the PSOE accounted for 84% of the votes in 2008, a total which today has dropped to just 45%. The PSOE emerged victorious as the most-voted party, while obtaining a record-low of a 29% share of the vote.

The party system continues to disintegrate with no corresponding change to the culture of forming coalitions; Sánchez seems determined to govern with his 123 seats and the support of the PNB [the Basque Nationalist Party], which is hanging on to the centre-right trademark which it used to share with Convergència [the now-defunct party led by Artur Mas which subsequently rebranded itself as PDCAT in 2016]. For this to actually happen, ERC would need to abstain and the PSOE would need to reach an agreement with Podemos. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is no longer insisting on being made deputy PM, though the agreement could include anyone from Jaume Asens or an independent being appointed minister. It may even lead to an agreement without Podemos forming part of the future government, if Pablo Iglesias agrees to Sanchez’ plan to swing right and left depending on the issue at hand. Aside from Catalonia, the biggest failure of government is that Spain has failed to approve a new budget for the last four years.

Catalonia, dialogue without surrender. ERC won the elections in Catalonia, meaning pro-independence parties are in the majority, thus strengthening their pro-pact strategy. ERC needs to know what the options are once the court issues its ruling, and what line the PSOE will take in respect to those who are being held on remand. ERC have benefited from being able to honestly acknowledge the errors made during the independence process and having gone through their own reckoning while staying strong as a party. The political situation in Catalonia awaits the second round of voting in the council and the European elections, which might favour JxCat after the new unjust ruling by the Central Electoral Board violating the political rights of Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí who remain in exile. It also remains to be seen whether the pro-independence parties will take a united stance on the decision, and if they end up announcing or forcing a snap election in Catalonia. Before the Catalan polls, ERC will have to put its strategy to the test in council coalitions, particularly in Barcelona city, where it remains to be seen what relationship it establishes with the PSC and the Comuns [as Podemos is known in Catalonia]. With regard to the pro-independence parties as a whole, their short-term objective must be to govern well and win every election, with a growing majority of the vote in favour of independence.

Translator’s note:

(1) In reference to the “no pasaran” slogan used by the republican side during the Spanish civil war.