Catalan Separatists Claim Mandate to Break from Spain

Pro-independence parties win a majority of the seats in Catalonia, but not a majority of the votes.

Protesters wear Catalan flags during a commemoration in Valencia, Spain, April 25, 2012
Protesters wear Catalan flags during a commemoration in Valencia, Spain, April 25, 2012 (Marc Sardon)
  • Separatist parties took 72 out of 135 seats in Catalonia’s legislature, a five-seat majority.
  • However, they only got 48 percent support.
  • Regional president Artur Mas nevertheless claimed a mandate to continue the process of breaking away from Spain.
  • The far-left and separatist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) — which otherwise opposes Mas — will be needed for a majority.
  • The centrist Ciudadanos won 25 seats, overtaking the Socialists and conservative People’s Party as leaders of the anti-independence opposition.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20154:54 PM

Polls are due to close in the region at 8 PM local time. They opened at 9 this morning. After noon, officials said turnout was 35 percent, nearly 6 percent higher than in the last regional elections in 2012. El País reported that by 4 o’clock, turnout in L’Hospitalet, Catalonia’s second city, had surpassed 50 percent.

Regional president Artur Mas described the vote itself as a victory, saying, “We overcome all the obstacles that the Spanish state put up.”

As the Atlantic Sentinel reported on Friday, the central government has tried to block the independence movement at every turn, insisting that Spain’s unity is nonnegotiable and that a formal referendum on secession would be illegitimate.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20155:55 PM

Meritxell Borràs, the minister of public administration, has said turnout was 6.9 percent higher this year than in 2012. A little over 5.5 million Catalans were registered to vote.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20156:04 PM

The most recent polls have all given a legislative majority to the pro-independence parties, if not necessarily a majority of the votes.

Mas’ Junts pel Sí alliance and the far-left Candidatura d’Unitat Popular could get between 68 and 83 seats together when 68 are needed for a majority in the regional parliament. But they’ve only got 50 percent of the votes in a single survey in recent weeks.

The separatists have not said what they will do if they get a majority of the seats without a majority of the votes. They would have won the election but hardly a convincing mandate to break away from Spain.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20157:08 PM

An exit poll shown on TV3 public television gives the separatist Junts pel Sí alliance 63 to 66 seats and the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) eleven to thirteen. Even if the lowest numbers are accurate, that would produce a majority in the regional legislature for breaking away from Spain.

According to the same poll, the separatist parties got 49.8 percent of the votes.

The liberal Ciudadanos would become the second-largest party with nineteen to 21 seats. The party is also vying for third place in the national elections that are due later this year.

The left-wing alliance led by the anti-establishment Podemos — which won the Barcelona municipal elections in May — would get between twelve and fourteen seats.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20157:24 PM

Another exit poll, from the company GAD3, has Junts pel Sí at 62 to 65 seats and the CUP at nine to eleven; at minimum, a one-seat majority for the separatists.

The main difference is that the GAD3 poll gives the Socialist Party several more seats than the exit survey shown on TV3.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20157:41 PM

Official results are starting to come in. You can follow them live at the government’s website here.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20157:58 PM

If, as the exit polls predict, Junts pel Sí falls short of a 68-seat majority, forming a coalition with the CUP could be tricky. Although both favor independence from Spain, there are ideological differences.

The largest party in the Junts pel Sí alliance is regional president Artur Mas’ liberal Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya. It is a middle-class party that only joined the independence movement in recent years when Madrid flat out refused to negotiate more autonomy for the region. The second-largest party in the alliance is the Republican Left. It was a major force in the antifascist Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War and is more adamant about secession.

The CUP, if anything, is even less compromising. It has rejected the eighteen-month plan outlined by Mas to set up independent state institutions and try to negotiate a split with Spain in the wake of the election. The CUP would rather declare independence outright.

Of course, all three would have to set aside their differences on economic and social policy while they work to achieve independence. Mas and the Republican Left have managed that in recent years. It is unclear if the CUP, which has only ever governed at the municipal level and some pretty fringe views, can do the same.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20159:40 PM

With nearly 90 percent of the votes counted, Junts pel Sí is still in the lead with 62 seats, followed by the Ciudadanos at an unexpectedly high 25 seats. The CUP is at ten, giving the separatist parties a five-seat majority.

Their combined share of the vote, however, is just under 48 percent, giving opponents an argument against independence. Turnout is a record 77 percent.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 27, 20159:58 PM

In a victory speech in Barcelona, regional president Artur Mas claimed a democratic mandate to proceed with constitutional reforms and efforts to erect Catalan state institutions with an eye to declaring independence in eighteen months. He vowed that the effort would be carried out “with a sense of integration inside Catalonia and a sense of harmony with regard to Spain and Europe.”

European Union membership could be a hurdle. Although Mas’ governments maintains that the region could stay in the bloc even after it secedes from Spain, the European Commission and existing member states are likely to take a different view. If Catalonia had to reapply for membership, Spain could block its entry. An independent Catalonia would be left without European Central Bank financing and without the euro currency — a blow to its economy which depends heavily on tourism and trade.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens September 28, 201512:16 AM

With 99 percent of the votes counted, the seat allocation hasn’t changed. The separatists are projected to get 72 out of 135 seats in Catalonia’s regional parliament, a five-seat majority.

That is actually a loss of two seats for the parties that are now part of the Junts pel Sí alliance plus the CUP. Separately, Mas’ Convergència Democràtica and the Republican Left had fifty and 21 seats in parliament, respectively. But they won nearly the exact number of votes as in 2012: around 1.6 million.

The CUP won the most. It more than doubled the votes it got (over 330,000) and its delegation in the regional legislature is set to grow from three to ten.

The centrist Ciudadanos replace the Socialists and conservative People’s Party as leaders of the anti-independence opposition. The two mainstream parties — which are still the largest in Spain as a whole — had 39 seats since winning nearly a million votes together in the 2012 election. They lost around 150,000 votes on Sunday and twelve seats. The Ciudadanos, by contrast, got almost half a million more votes and sixteen more seats.

Given that, it’s hard to argue that the record-high turnout of 77 percent was driven primarily by a surge in support for secession. Rather, it seems the election’s high stakes drove both Catalans in favor of independence and those opposed to the polls this weekend.

Without an overall majority of the votes, the separatists — despite holding onto their majority in parliament — will be hard-pressed to argue in the coming days that they have a mandate to break away from Spain. More likely, they will honor their promise to push ahead with constitutional reform and (finally) seek an official referendum on independence, something Madrid is almost certain to reject, at least until the general elections in December.

Catalonia may be one step closer independence and it’s clear the status quo won’t hold. But there is still a long way to go before the issue will be resolved.

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