The decline of a figure lauded in Spain

Jordi Pujol's image as a man willing to make deals allowed him to enjoy a good reputation both within and outside Catalonia

EL PATI DESCOBERT: MARC GUINJOAN, TONI RODON I MARC SANJAUME

In the second volume of his memoirs, A Time to Build (published by Proa), former Catalan president Jordi Pujol tells of his willingness "to build the institution from the bottom up, from scratch". "When my years as president are weighed in the balance, it's not often that they mention my efforts to build an administration from nothing. Perhaps we could have done it better but, generally speaking, it was very effective", he assured. Beyond individual opinions, it's undeniable that Pujol earned the trust of many Catalans. Not only for his repeated victories at the polls (twice with absolute majorities), but also because, on average, he personally had enviable approval ratings when compared to any top political leader today.

According to surveys by Spain's Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas (CIS, or Center for Sociological Research), from 1987 to 2002, about half of Catalans claimed to be very or fairly confident in the president. The figure was particularly high between 1995 and 1998, when six of every ten Catalans trusted in the ex-president. It was not until the last years of his mandate that the political wear-and-tear began to take its toll and the confidence of Catalans began to decline. Indeed, only in the penultimate year of his mandate did his negative evaluations exceed the positive ones. This is curious when compared to the approval ratings he received in the rest of Spain, which achieved their highest levels in the last years of his mandate.

Well-regarded regional president

It is well known that officials in the autonomous regions, and especially the representatives of peripheral nationalist parties, are traditionally poorly rated by the general public in Spain. In the case of Jordi Pujol, however, we find important nuances: first, while it's true that during his long political career he never obtained a higher than 4.5 median rating in the whole of Spain, his scores were always much higher than other important regional figures. For example, in 2002 President Pujol had a valuation of 4.2, much closer to the 4.7 of José María Aznar than to the 1.8 given by the Spanish to Basque leader Xabier Arzalluz. Therefore, it seems that despite the occasional gibe -- the famous "Pujol! Speak Spanish, you dwarf!" after the PP's victory in the 1996 general elections-- the continual efforts of CiU and Pujol to work for the governability of Spain and his image of a man willing to reach agreements bore fruit.

However, support for the Catalan president also fluctuated considerably over time, often coinciding with important political events. Thus, after Pujol received a good score at the beginning of the 1980's, his approval rating peaked in 1985, the year when the newspaper ABC named him the Spaniard of the Year. The same phenomenon was repeated in 1996, coinciding with the Majestic pact with the PP of José María Aznar. The Spain-wide assessment of Jordi Pujol improved again at the beginning of 2000, coinciding with the president "stepping aside" -- as he liked to refer to it-- and with the emergence of then deputy Artur Mas as an important new figure in CiU.

The data indicate that important political events --such as the pacts with PP and PSOE-- and the increase in the approval rating of Pujol in the rest of Spain was not a coincidence. During those years Pujol's approval rating improved among conservatives, people over the median age, and especially among those Spaniards who opposed a transfer of powers to the Catalan government. This phenomenon was especially noticeable in the final years of his presidency, a time when the need to reform Catalan self-rule began to be discussed and Pujol stood as a staunch representative of the regional status quo. So, it should come as no surprise that during those years the approval rating of the president worsened in Catalonia while it improved in the whole of Spain.

An "honest" president

The opinion on Pujol among the Catalan public reveals a pattern that is very unusual in current-day Catalonia. Although his valuation changed with different variables, in general he received a passing grade --high in some cases-- among people on the political left and right, older and younger voters, and among diverse social classes. In 2002, in the twilight of his reign, 55.9% approved of his work as head of the Generalitat, and only 17.6% considered his work as "poor" or "very poor". In that same year, Pujol was regarded positively for his ability to "understand the problems of Catalonia" -- by 65 per cent of all respondents--, for his "ability to defend the interests of Catalonia" (59.2%) and for his "capacity for dialogue" (65.6%).

But Pujol was also highly rated for his "honesty", with 46.7% considering him to be "honest". His rhetorical insistence on ethics and political values surely contributed to this image. In the same volume of his memoirs he explained this clearly: "When I left the presidency of the Generalitat 23 years later, I decided to continue working for the ideas, values, and attitudes that a country must cultivate in order to move forward". Following his recent confession, this image will surely be irreparably tarnished, and thereby destroy the political capital that, in the eyes of the citizens, few other politicians in the history of the country had been able to accumulate.

From 'El Pati Descobert' (The Open Courtyard) - A blog written by Marc Guinjoan, Toni Rodon and Marc Sanjaume

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