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Pro-independence parties keep arguing about running together or separately in early elections

Early elections at the Catalan Parliament transformed into a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence is the only formula left to allow citizens to hold a self-determination vote. However, parties supporting self-determination, and particularly those supporting independence, do not share the same approach about how to ensure it will become a true plebiscite, nor on the exact steps that should follow if they were to win.  The President of the Catalan Government and leader of the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, Artur Mas, wants to run through a broad single list grouping many ideologies together. However, left-wing parties are against this formula and want a debate on social issues and corruption. Both approaches pretend to be the one that guarantees the highest number of pro-independence votes. At present, parties and civil society organisations are holding intense talks to explore a consensual way out.

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05 December 2014 09:29 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- Early elections at the Catalan Parliament transformed into a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence is the only formula left to allow citizens to hold a self-determination vote to decide whether to stay or not within Spain, after the Spanish Government’s blocking attitude to hold any mutually-agreed vote on the issue. However, parties supporting self-determination and particularly those supporting independence do not share the same approach about how regular parliamentary elections should be transformed into an independence plebiscite, nor on the exact steps that should follow in order to build a new independent state if they were to win the elections.  The President of the Catalan Government and leader of the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, Artur Mas, wants to run through a broad single list grouping many parties and ideologies together. However, left-wing parties are against this formula since they also want a debate on social and economic issues, as well as on the fight against corruption. The leader of the Left-wing Catalan Independent party ERC, Oriol Junqueras, exposed this formula in a conference on last Tuesday, answering Mas’ conference held a week earlier. Both approaches pretend to be the one that guarantees the highest number of pro-independence votes and therefore the formula that should maximise the possibilities to get independence from Spain. Mas states that the single list with many recognised independent and parties kept aside would have a multiplying effect while Junqueras thinks that separate lists would ensure that everybody could vote a candidature that fits their own views and therefore nobody would feel excluded.These days, parties and civil society organisations are holding intense talks to explore a consensual way out. Everybody says to be confident that a solution will be found, although positions are quite distant right now and there is also some scepticism in the atmosphere.  Besides, the Catalan President is the only person that can call early elections, and he said he would do it if there was a clear cross-party candidature for independence, although he also admitted there could be other pro-independence lists. Faced with this, the parties that are clearly against independence strongly criticise both Mas and Junqueras plans and have different opinion on the need for early elections. Some see early elections as an opportunity to get more MPs and to end the independence debate if pro-independence parties were to lose. While others see early elections as a risk against economic recovery and one that risks losing MPs.


Both of them want the best formula to mobilize the maximum number of pro-independence voters and at the same time to get a clear result that can be easily explained at international level.Both approaches have legitimate reasons to think it is a best formula than the other one to reach such objectives, and probably supporters of each of them are quite convinced about, but it is also difficult to put personal and party interests aside. After a series of corruption scandals affecting the CiU, Mas would benefit from putting his party aside by running in a broader list. At the same time, opinion polls indicate that Junqueras could win the next elections if he runs separately, and therefore could benefit from this formula. The formulas chosen by both Mas and Junqueras are precisely the ones that best suit their personal and party interests as well. However, there are many objective reasons to back them or to object against them as well.

The Catalan President’s single list has several advantages. Firstly, with the same number of votes than those coming from adding separate candidatures, a single list would get a higher amount of MPs because of the electoral system, which privileges majorities by using the D’Hondt’s method. For instance, a single candidature receiving 2 million votes would get more MPs than those obtained by 3 separate candidatures that altogether have 2 million votes.

A single list can get more votes? 

In addition, a national unity list might have the effect of attracting some people who are undecided but appreciate the fact that different parties are able to put their differences aside towards a common objective. In addition, wide majorities tend to attract some undecided voters who want to go with the majority. Furthermore, running together would avoid internal battles within the pro-independence side and avoid attacks among each other, which should result in receiving more votes.

However, the argument can be easily overturned since it can also be argued that the people who are more attached to an ideology or a party, or who tend to hate other ideologies or parties, might not vote for a single list because they refuse to give their explicit support to a particular ideology or party included in the candidature. For instance, a neo-Liberal person being scared of voting for a list that has Alternative Left or post-Communist members. Or the other way around, a Social-Democrat voter who refuses to vote for a Liberal candidate.

In fact, this is the main argument for running in separate lists: each voter should feel comfortable with the candidature he or she votes for. Therefore, by running separately, less people would feel uncomfortable or excluded and more votes would be received by the group of pro-independence candidatures, thinks Junqueras.

Can social issues be secondary topics right now?

In addition, in the current economic, social and political context, it seems difficult to hold elections without having proposals on unemployment, public healthcare, poverty reduction, housing, economic competitiveness or the fight against corruption. Particularly when parties against independence will be talking about those issues during the campaign. In fact, pro-independence voters who are unemployed or have been evicted from their home might be even offended if those issues are not sufficiently tackled by pro-independence parties during the campaign.

However, the single list could also include the debate about social and economic issues but always conditioned to independence. For instance, getting independence in order to have better hospitals or more economic resources for those unemployed, social housing or transport infrastructure. In this case, the independence argue would become an overarching item embracing a large series of economic and social arguments. The problem is that some parties running in this single list might have different views about unemployment reduction, taxation or public healthcare management.

A single list makes results easy to interpret

Finally, another argument to take into account is the one particularly stressed by the Catalan President regarding the interpretation of results by the international community and also by the Spanish and Catalan people. If a single list were to obtain the absolute majority with a campaign exclusively focused on independence, if elections had a high turnout, it would be very clear that Catalans had voted to become an independent state. However, it is less clear what would happen if this single list clearly were to win over the second most voted one, but did not obtain an absolute majority, or it obtained an absolute majority in MPs but not in the number of votes.

By running in separate lists, the independence message can be diluted and interpretation can focus on the social or economic aspects. It seems more difficult to avoid interpretations such as Junqueras wins over Mas or, vice versa, Mas wins over Junqueras. The interpretation would require adding all the votes for pro-independence candidatures and seeing whether they reach the absolute majority or not, or whether they altogether form an absolute majority at the Catalan Parliament. Junqueras proposed the possibility of sharing a part of the name as an umbrella grouping the pro-independence lists but ensuring they run separately. For instance, instead of running as “ERC”, Junqueras could top a list called “Candidature for independence – ERC”, and Mas do a similar thing with a list also called “Candidature for independence” but with a different second part of the name.

Civil society organisations prefer a single list

In the last few days, there have been many statements from all parties about how to run. The main pro-independence civil society organisations: the grass-roots Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural, said there preferred a formula strengthening the unity of pro-independence forces. However, they were not categorical and are open to debate. Nonetheless, what they really want is an immediate vote on independence and to mobilise the maximum number of pro-independence voters.

Besides, the CiU faces an additional problem: the smallest party in the two-party coalition, the Christian-Democrat UDC, does not have a clear stance on independence. Its leader, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, is clearly against it and supports a Catalan State within a confederated Spain. However, many leading members of UDC and many of its voters are pro-independence. The party refuses to officially position itself on the issue. This damages the CiU’s credibility as a pro-independence force, and it also damages the image of the Liberal CDC, which is CiU’s largest party and is pro-independence. Mas leads the CDC and he will have to decide in the coming weeks whether he runs with the UDC or not. And the UDC will have to decide whether its runs with Mas or not in early elections that will be all about independence. Duran supports self-determination but he is against early elections, since he wants to put the independence debate aside. A single list of pro-independence parties would make breaking up with UDC less traumatic for CDC and Mas. Several CDC leaders have repeated in the last few hours that an agreement with other pro-independence parties should be possible, while Duran accused the ERC of “running away” from the CiU.

Other left-wing parties prefer to run separately 

Finally, the two other pro-self-determination left-wing forces besides the ERC also prefer separate lists. The Green Socialist and post-Communist coalition ICV-EUiA has a similar stance on independence than UDC: the coalition does not have an official position and some of its leaders would vote for it and others against it. However, ICV-EUiA clearly supports self-determination and the creation of a Catalan State, which later could be fully independent or federated within Spain. The ICV-EUiA does not want to run with Mas and the Liberal CDC in a single list that clearly supports independence because they totally disagree about social and economic policies. They stated that Junqueras’ proposal is better and they did not reject the possibility of sharing some electoral rallies or electoral promises with left-wing pro-independence candidatures.

Besides, the alternative left and radical independence party CUP already stated before Mas’ conference that they would not run with right-wing or Liberal parties. The CUP stated they would run in a candidature that clearly defends a new social and economic model in an independent Catalonia. Therefore, they welcomed Junqueras’ speech and said they do not rule out the possibility of sharing part of the name or some points, although they are against forming a national unity government after the elections if pro-independence were to win. In the last few days the CUP has intensified contacts with smaller alternative left parties, whichare not present at the party, in order to run together and expand its electoral support.

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  • Oriol Junqueras (left) and Artur Mas (centre) on Tuesday (by A. Moldes)

  • Oriol Junqueras (left) and Artur Mas (centre) on Tuesday (by A. Moldes)