A week ago she was the anti-establishment mayor who didn’t know how to negotiate, the mayor who couldn’t tackle crime and deal with the manters [as the unlicensed street sellers of counterfeit goods are known], the mayor who had failed to keep her pledges on housing, a self-centred woman and the bedfellow of Catalan secessionists. For the media and all right-thinking Catalans, Ada Colau was the one to beat. But the ballot box can have a surprisingly sobering effect and all those who previously wished to put an end to Ada Colau’s Barcelona En Comú [or els comuns as they are popularly known] have realised that they are the lesser of two evils, in a revival of the old slogan "better red than dead". The new version of the evil once embodied by Colau is now represented by Ernest Maragall and his support for independence. It is not just any form of secessionism, however, but one which has emerged from a battle-weary socialist federalism, one which therefore strayed off the straight path.
Bitter victories and sweet defeats aside, the post-election aftermath of 26 May provided useful insights into the voters true wants, having sent different messages in the European and council elections. The fact that both elections were held on the same day meant that the voters were able to express their wishes in a dual, transversal vote involving two ideological variables.
In Barcelona city, the election results show that many voters consciously decided to carefully choose their voting slips, combining preferences from different, seemingly distant political groups. Carles Puigdemont obtained 200,000 votes, more than twice the number his party won in the local elections. Meanwhile, Ada Colau obtained twice the number of votes in the council elections as her party did in the European polls. Likewise, Ernest Maragall received more votes than Oriol Junqueras. Clearly, many voters chose to cross party lines and choose candidates in order to send one message to Barcelona and another to the European parliament. A detailed analysis of the changing of allegiances suggests votes for Puigdemont in the European elections were transferred to Colau in the council elections in certain districts.
Ernest Maragall won the election by a few thousand votes, but tied with Ada Colau in terms of the number of town councillors, meaning both are still in the running to ultimately receive the staff of office [in reference to the ceremonial staff which is issued to mayors in Spain]. The ERC mayor might decide to form a government with the comuns and JxCat [Puigdemont’s party], while Ada Colau might opt to form a government with ERC and the PSC. The incompatibilities created by Maragall’s refusal to work with the PSC and Colau’s refusal to work with JxCat lead one to suspect that the two most voted candidates —both on the left— may end up forging a coalition government in the city. Complex negotiations lie ahead for ERC and the comuns. Both will have to decide whether they prioritise the near or the more distant future, and the need to choose between prioritizing a broad consensus for running the city or becoming mired by the red lines and entrenched positions which the electorate appear to have abandoned.
The majority electoral message is essentially for a government of the left. However, the electorate is more divided in terms of the identity variable, in which the clear majority of around eighty percent favour sovereignty, voting to decide their future, defending their political rights and opposing the situation of the political prisoners and those in exile.
Colau is at a crossroads where she faces a personal decision between her own future and maintaining her image of consensus-building and a degree of peace within the comuns.
The acting mayor is using the threat of submitting herself to a vote as a bargaining chip, with the possibility that the PSC and Ciudadanos will re-elect her. It is certainly a possibility, but what price would she pay for taking the place of the most voted candidate thanks to the support of those who bitterly opposed her and her policies? Some of her followers would be troubled by the possibility of her turning into "the 155 mayor" [in a reference to the Spanish government’s decision to invoke article 155 of the Constitution in October 2017, thus effectively taking control of the Catalan government].
The negotiating teams of ERC and En Comú Podem have already met to establish the framework of dialogue, following an initial meeting between Maragall and Colau, which was not particularly productive. Those close to the negotiations do not rule out the possibility of the post being shared, but in this case one of the decisions to be made would be who would hold the post for the first two years, due to a lack of trust over agreements involving third parties which would have to be respected in two years’ time.
All those involved speak of making Barcelona the number one priority and overcoming divides and beginning to build bridges at the national level to obtain as broad a consensus as possible. But in Catalan politics there is still a big difference between what people say and what they intend to do and between what is said in public and what is said in private. Perhaps it is time for Barcelona to put the running of the city first, and to ensure that it once again operates with as broad a consensus as possible, with the utmost respect for the will of the majority of the people of Barcelona, who voted for Maragall, the left and for more bridges rather than trenches.