27-S elections look back: A year of pro-independence majority in the Parliament

This Thursday is the first anniversary of the Catalan Elections of the 27th of September 2015, which led to the first pro-independence majority in the Parliament. Cross-party list ‘Junts Pel Sí’, which gathered together representatives from civil society and politicians such as left wing ERC’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, former MEP Raül Romeva and former President Mas, amongst others, won the elections, obtaining 62 MPs in the 135-seat Catalan Chamber. However, they didn’t obtain an absolute majority and negotiated with radical left pro-independence CUP, who got 10 MPs, in order to have a majority in favour of independence in the Catalan Chamber. After Mas failed twice to be invested as President, since CUP repeatedly refused to support him, former Mayor of Girona and President of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), Carles Puigdemont, emerged as the candidate of consensus. Then, a term of office defined as ‘exceptional’ started, with the aim of launching a pro-independence roadmap and putting in place the basis for the future Catalan Republic.

MPs voting in the Parliament's session the conclusions of the Committee to Study the Constitutive Process
MPs voting in the Parliament's session the conclusions of the Committee to Study the Constitutive Process / ACN

ACN / Sara Prim

September 27, 2016 07:20 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- A year ago, the 27-S Catalan elections showed a majoritarian support for pro-independence forces. The 72 MPs of two parties, cross-party list ‘Junts Pel Sí’ and radical left CUP, agreed after months of negotiations to launch a roadmap for independence and put in place the basis for the Catalan Republic; an endeavour which first required former Catalan President and ‘Junts Pel Sí’s preferred candidate Artur Mas to step aside. Former Mayor of Girona and President of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), Carles Puigdemont, then emerged as the candidate of consensus. He committed to starting a term of office which was due to last 18 months and put Catalonia “at the gates of independence”, according to Puigdemont’s own words. This endeavour has so far resulted in numerous suspensions from the Spanish Constitutional Court (TC) of the so-called ‘structures of states’, threats of legal and penal action against some of Catalonia’s main political representatives and also much talk about differences between the pro-independence forces. The latter has led to a vote of confidence which President Puigdemont will have to face this Wednesday.

First Parliament with a pro-independence majority

‘Junts Pel Sí’, which gathered together pro-independence representatives from civil society and politicians such as left wing ERC’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, former MEP Raül Romeva and former President Mas, amongst others, won the 27-S elections. They obtained nearly 40% of the vote and obtained 62 MPs in the 135-seat Catalan Chamber. However, they didn’t obtain an absolute majority and this result required them to negotiate with other forces. Emphasising their shared pro-independence commitment, ‘Junts Pel Sí’ reached an agreement with CUP, who got 10 MPs.

However, both forces needed to negotiate the very first step: choosing a president. ‘Junts Pel Sí’ insisted that their candidate was Artur Mas, but also admitted that “the responsibility is shared”, directly inviting CUP to design a joint roadmap for independence. “What matters now is whether we can set a roadmap together” stated Mas.

CUP had been insisting since the electoral campaign that they wouldn’t instate Mas as President and emphasised that “the priority” was what to do after the democratic mandate of the 27-S, when to start the independence process and how to proceed.

Left wing ERC appealed to "the calmness, prudency, pragmatism and generosity" of radical left CUP and current President Artur Mas' liberal party CDC, to which most of the members of the 'Junts Pel Sí' cross-party list belonged. ERC admitted to being "annoyed" by the "exchange of accusations" between CUP and CDC, whose positions are "the furthest apart" and pointed out the difficulty of the negotiations as they are on "creating a new country, rather than establishing an autonomic government". "We all need each other" stated ERC member Joan Tardà. "It is impossible that they won't reach an agreement" he said and added that if this is the case "it would be a betrayal of the people's will".

In a similar sense, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the civil society association responsible for the last years’ massive pro-independence rallies in Catalonia, urged both forces to reach an agreement "without exclusions, with the conviction that nobody is superfluous in this process of national transition”. The ANC's president, Jordi Sànchez, emphasised that what Catalonia needed after the 27-S mandate was "a strong government" and warned of the "risk of erosion of the 72 pro-independence MPs" and the disappointment of the citizens if they weren't able to reach a "good and quick" agreement.

Carles Puigdemont, the candidate of consensus

On the 10th of January, after three months of negotiations, ‘Junts Pel Sí’ and CUP reached a last-minute agreement and former Mayor of Girona city and president of the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), Carles Puigdemont was instated as President number 130. Mas finally decided to step aside after he failed to pass the investiture debate and opted to facilitate the agreement between the pro-independence forces.

Puigdemont obtained the absolute majority of the Parliament and stated that he was committed to launching the pro-independence roadmap and obeying the democratic mandate of the 27-S Catalan Elections. All 62 MPs from ‘Junts Pel Sí’ and 8 of CUP’s 10 MPs supported Puigdemont’s candidature, 2 of CUP’s MPs decided to abstain, and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), the alternative left coalition ‘Catalunya Sí que es Pot’ and the Catalan People’s Party (PPC) voted against it. The investiture debate took place just before all the legal deadlines were due to expire and new elections would have had to been called in Catalonia.

In his first speech as Catalan President, Puigdemont insisted on his commitment to the roadmap for independence and called on all parties to “start working in light of the [pro-independence] declaration approved by the Parliament on the 9th of November”.

“Our duty is to comply with the democratic mandate of the Parliament, because it was approved, because it is this Parliament’s will, the citizens’ will” stated Puigdemont. The candidate to run for Catalan President bid to “start negotiations with the Spanish State, with Europe and with the international community” for the declaration “to achieve recognition”. In this sense, he emphasised that Mas would be an asset on which he would count. “These are not times for cowards, nor for giving up in favour of comfort”.

Spanish Constitutional Court obstacles blocking pro-independence roadmap

In December, the Spanish Constitutional Court (TC) declared the Parliament's pro-independence declaration proposal approved by the 72 pro-independence MPs in the Parliament unconstitutional and, therefore, invalid. The TC made its decision within record time, only 22 days after the appeal presented by the Spanish executive was accepted, which made this resolution the fastest in the TC's history. The magistrates considered that the agreed pro-independence proposal approved on the 9th of November violated core articles of the Spanish Constitution, such as "the indivisible unity of Spain" and "the subjection of the public powers to the law" and that it also was an "attack" on the Rule of Law. The Catalan Government Spokeswoman, Neus Munté described the TC's resolution as "political" and "predictable" and assured that the credibility of the Spanish Constitutional Court meant "almost zero" to the Catalan Government.

Some of Catalonia’s state structures, those mechanisms projected to ensure the transition to an independent state, have been declared unconstitutional during the past year too. The TC unanimously suspended some precepts of the law on fiscal measures which foresaw the creation of the Catalan Tax Agency, the building of a catalogue of strategic infrastructures and plans for the energy and railway sectors, amongst others.

One of the latest actions taken by Spain’s government to stop Catalonia’s pro-independence aspirations aimed to suspend the conclusions of the Committee to Study the Constitutive Process, which established the next steps in Catalonia’s pro-independence process. The pro-independence forces in the Parliament, ‘Junts Pel Sí’ and CUP (which represent a majority of 72 MPs in the 135-seat Catalan Parliament), voted in favour of the conclusions, while alternative left alliance ‘Catalunya Sí que es Pot’ voted against them. Thus, the Parliament ignored the TC’s warnings which called for impeding any action regarding the constitutive process of a Catalan republic. 

Spain’s executive then called on the TC to apply an enforced sentence against the Parliament’s President, Carme Forcadell, for having disobeyed the TC’s rulings and allowing the pro-independence roadmap to be put to vote. In particular, the Spanish executive calls on the TC to “proceed to consider the witness of particulars in order to claim criminal liability against the Parliament’s President for disobeying the rulings of the TC, which all public servants are compelled to obey”.

Another massive rally on the 11th of September

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans hit the streets again on the National Day to claim Catalonia’s independence. “This is a matter of democracy”, stated Jordi Cuixart, the President of ‘Òmnium Cultural’, one of the main civil society organisations behind the massive pro-independence demonstrations held since 2012, together with the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). “We prefer the ballot boxes rather than the Court”, stated Jordi Sànchez, the President of ANC, in reference to Spain’s attitude regarding Catalonia’s pro-independence movement and the imputation of some of the Catalan Government’s representatives by the Spanish Constitutional Court. This year’s mobilisation was extended to four other cities besides the Catalan capital Barcelona: Salt, next to Girona; Berga, in Central Catalonia; Lleida in the East: and Tarragona in the South. At 17:14 (5.14 pm CET) all the demonstrators lifted a yellow card in the shape of a circle symbolising a heart-beat and responded to the motto ‘Go ahead, Catalan Republic’.

Puigdemont to face vote of confidence

President Puigdemont announced in June that he would submit to a vote of confidence this September, after CUP’s veto of the budget for 2016. He considered then that the Government, led by pro-independence cross-party list ‘Junts Pel Sí’ with the support of CUP, didn’t have “guaranteed stability” and therefore couldn’t rule. “We can’t continue like this, we go nowhere with such a volatile basis”, Puigdemont stated. He admitted that the conditions which led to the agreement between the pro-independence forces after the 27-S elections had “changed” after CUP’s veto. “I trusted you and I defended you until the end” he said, addressing radical left pro-independence CUP and adding that they had “let down the hopes of millions of people” by refusing to approve the budget.

The vote of confidence in the Catalan President in September may imply a renegotiation of the roadmap of the current government, which was expected to create the structures of an independent state within 18 months, and to then call constituent elections and draft a constitution for an independent Catalonia to be validated at the ballot box. This, of course, in the absence of an offer from Spain, in which case the Government would negotiate with Madrid a Scottish-style referendum.