Postponement of February 14 elections gains momentum

Argimon and the Ombudsman press to postpone the elections, while Socialists warn that it could be illegal

QUIM BERTOMEU / MIREIA ESTEVE / NÚRIA ORRIOLS

Postponement of the parliamentary elections on 14 February is gaining momentum. The Government has started to give signs this Wednesday that it is inclined to postpone the elections and, among political parties, only the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) is openly belligerent about changing the date. Moreover, there are more and more powerful voices pushing for a delay. The most recent were those of the Catalan Government's Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, and the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó. Both have argued that it would be advisable to postpone the elections.

The most important actor in this controversy is the Government, which is the one who will make the final decision. The government has clearly decided not to take any stage for granted in public. This could be seen in parliamentary appearances by vice-president Pere Aragonès and spokesperson Meritxell Budó, as well as in a radio interview with Minister for Foreign Action, Bernat Solé, who is also responsible for organising the elections. Nevertheless, Budó and Solé have admitted that the postponement was plausible. The former has said that the health forecasts were not good and that "the health of the voters, and not the result of the elections" had to be taken into account. The second admitted that the elections would have to be postponed if citizens did not feel "safe" to go and vote.

The Catalan administration seems to be edging towards a decision. Sources familiar with the conversations that have taken place in the last few hours assure us that right now "the majority position is towards postponement". How will the executive proceed? There will be two key moments. First, on Thursday there will be a new online meeting between the Government and the political parties in which a new report from the Ministry of Health will be discussed on what the epidemiological situation is expected to be on 14 February. The last document, made public on Monday, was pessimistic. A new report by the Department of Foreign Action on the matter will also be addressed. And on Friday, once everyone has been able to study the documents, the Government and the parties will meet again to discuss and try to reach a consensus on the final decision. There won't be any more time as a decision will be needed on Friday.

Health Department expects peak in ICU four days before the election, but does not say whether it should be postponed

The new date

Should the parties decide to postpone the elections, a new date will have to be set. Some sources believe that the new  date would not be earlier than the beginning or middle of May. In the first place, because "it does not make sense to call them in the middle of another wave" like the now and we would have to wait to enter a new scenario of lowering of contagion, which will not arrive before March. Secondly, the Government has to allow 54 days between calling the elections and the vote. This means that the earliest possible date would be mid-May.

Pressure

We will have to wait until Friday for an outcome. Till then, there will be reproaches and criticism flying from one party to another. One of the most heard voices in Catalonia in this pandemic, Josep Maria Argimon, has admitted this Wednesday that, from a health point of view, the epidemiological situation and forecasts of worsening indicators in the coming weeks do not project "the best scenario" to hold the elections on the scheduled date, reports Gemma Garrido Granger. "It's not the best scenario, but you can't ask people not to leave their homes to go vote," she concluded. Despite everything, the Secretary of Public Health has not wanted to make a statement on whether the postponement should take place regardless.

The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, has made a similar statement. On Wednesday, he presented a report recommending that the government "consider the possibility of an electoral postponement". He did so with data in hand and surrounded by two experts. One of them, the head of preventive medicine and epidemiology at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital, Magda Campins, explained that they estimate that on 14 February there could be some 215,000 people, between infected and close contacts, who would be "recommended" not to go to vote in person. However, they would have the option of voting in person if they had not voted by mail beforehand. For her, and for the Catalan Ombudsman, this is a risk that should not be taken.

In the same report, it is stated that there is a "legal basis" for postponing the elections without incurring a high risk of the decision being challenged. Professor of constitutional law emeritus of the University Carlos III, Luis López Guerra, has argued that there is a precedent for a very close postponement - the Basque and Galician elections of March 2020, which ended up being moved to July - and, furthermore, he has argued that the Government itself already envisaged this postponement when it called the elections. For the professor, then, these precedents would serve as precedent to avoid the Government being caughtup in a court battle.

Reproaches in Parliament

The main concern of the Government before opting for the postponement of the elections is that, once it is done, someone will challenge it and the Electoral Board or the courts will agree. This Wednesday the PSC has hinted that it might do so. In a statement, the Socialists recalled that the elections were called automatically because, after Quim Torra was barred, a new president was not elected. Thus, for Miquel Iceta's party, the Government "has not called" these elections and, therefore, "cannot" postpone them. Vox also considers that there are no excuses for postponing them, but at the moment he does not plan to appeal for a change of date, informs Anna Mascaró.

It has also become clear in Parliament that the postponement of the elections is a forthcoming scenario. Only the PSC has been against postponing them and has said that the executive wants to postpone them because of "electioneering interests". "It is not justified," said PSC spokesperson Eva Granados. The president of Esquerra's group, Sergi Sabrià, has answered that the organization to hold elections is prepared and that, in any case, the groups have to ask themselves if it is "advisable" to, taking into account that the peak of contagion will be just before February 14. "You have postponed your own party congress - that of the PSOE - because of the situation of the pandemic, no more electioneering," said Sabrià. The other parties have kept a low profile on the issue but with one constant: no one else has had any major objections to postponing it. This is the scenario that is gaining strength.

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