In Barcelona city the mayoral seat wasn’t won by the candidate who received the most votes, nor by a coalition of the parties whose election manifestos were most alike. Not only have they missed an opportunity to build a bridge, but they have dug themselves in a little deeper in their trenches, something that will have to be reverted. Mayor Ada Colau has been re-elected with the support of the PSC and Manuel Valls, a mayoral hopeful who has managed to make the most of a mediocre election result and —as he did on many occasions back in France— someone who showed on Saturday that provocation and close-quarter combat make up his natural political environment.
Today Ada Colau is the rightful mayor of Barcelona city because she garnered the necessary support to be elected, but she admits herself that she wishes events had taken a different path.
Colau has managed to form a government coalition with PSC leader Jaume Collboni, even though she ditched her socialist partner in November 2017 —after governing the city together for eighteen months— following the PSC’s support to Madrid’s direct rule on Catalonia. This marked the start of a gruelling time for Colau’s Comuns, who had to rule the city by themselves with the support of only eleven of the forty-one elected members of the municipal council. Now they will rule together again, even though they haven’t agreed upon a joint platform or explained themselves to the citizens of Barcelona, as this time the priority was different: to seize the mayoral seat.
The question that many in Barcelona might ask themselves is what price Ada Colau will pay in exchange for the support of Manuel Valls, considering they are political antipodes and the former French PM made it clear on Saturday that “the most important thing is to make sure Barcelona has a mayor who does not support Catalan independence”. Valls also had no qualms about pointing out to Colau that “she wouldn’t be mayor” without his votes. Colau’s Comuns have accepted the support of a candidate who represents precisely what they call “the powerful”. Valls has played his hand well to avoid becoming irrelevant and, so long as he holds a seat in the city hall, he will not miss a chance to use his influence and get the media’s attention in order to boost his political career in Spain. Colau’s public statement claiming that Valls’ support won’t come at a price bears little credibility. Nothing is free in politics, less so when you are dealing with major transnational interests.
Every time we turn a new page in our lives, there is a chance we will err or perhaps even get it right. PSC candidate Jaume Collboni was clever enough to let bygones be bygones in order to reach an agreement with Ada Colau, the mayor whose top priority was to secure her re-election. ERC’s Ernest Maragall, who won the popular vote in Barcelona but failed to seize the mayoral seat, will need to do the same cost-benefit analysis. ERC could get bogged down in their denunciation of injustice or by attempting to exploit the contradictions that Colau will inevitably face, with the estimable aid of the State, which never lets one down when it comes to trampling on the civil and political rights of dissidents. What will Colau do when the time comes for the institution she represents to respond to a hypothetical guilty verdict in the case against the Catalan political prisoners? How will she guarantee that councilman Quim Forn is allowed to exercise the political rights that he is being denied in prison? On Saturday Forn taught Colau a lesson when he stated that, precisely because he had every right to stoke the fire, he felt compelled to ask for dialogue and seek a consensus instead. Shortly afterwards Forn left the building through a back door to be driven back to jail as a political prisoner, a status which the Comuns claim to acknowledge.
Still, Ada Colau realises that she will face these new problems while leading the local government of the Catalan capital, at least for now.
Ernest Maragall could be tempted to mount a bitter opposition to Colau or he could seek the chance to build bridges and prevent Barcelona’s society from becoming split down the middle, the actual goal of some of those who would claim otherwise. Ernest Maragall’s words, spoken in the city hall, were “we will not become the meek, docile ally of the so-called progressives”. Clearly, ERC are unlikely to forget Colau’s rebuff any time soon. But it would be a mistake to corner and condemn the mayor —now that she has been reelected— to always having to rely on the support of the PSC and Valls’ Ciudadanos. Most people in Barcelona would be better off with a broad-based government or a an agreement for progress —the broader, the better— and a majority whose top priority is to reactivate a city that is facing huge challenges.
Colau is the mayor of Barcelona, but her ceremonial staff could turn into a snake that poisons her charisma.