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Aragonès faces calls to put presidential bid on hold until government deal is reached

Politician under fire from pro-independence allies and unionist rivals alike during Friday’s parliamentary debate


26 March 2021 07:30 PM


ACN | Barcelona

The main take from Pere Aragonès’ first attempt to be invested as Catalan president, which was doomed even before lawmakers arrived in parliament on Friday, is that his chances of garnering enough support in time for the second round of voting are scarce too.

Despite holding most seats in the Catalan parliament, a majority that increased in the recent election, pro-independence forces have so far failed to reach a three-party agreement to appoint Aragonès as the next head of government.

While he is expected to get the ‘yes’ votes from far-left CUP and his own party, Esquerra Republicana (ERC), the abstention announced by Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) on Thursday means that his bid for office will be rejected by opposition groups when votes are cast on Friday night.

  • "You’ll repeat a failure, but what we need is competence, not independence"

    Salvador Illa · Socialist leader

In his parliamentary address, Aragonès laid out the political agenda of his future government, and called for unity among pro-independence parties to pressure Spain into negotiating a self-determination referendum and an amnesty for all the politicians and activists prosecuted for their role in the territorial dispute.

He also pledged to tackle the "social emergency" and work towards "economic reconstruction" in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Jordi Sànchez, the secretary-general of JxCat, imprisoned since the fall of 2017, tweeted that Aragonès "didn’t seem very interested in seeking" the backing of his party. A spokesperson for JxCat, Albert Batet, urged Aragonès to refrain from holding the next round of votes "until an agreement is reached."  

CUP described the preliminary deal reached with ERC to elect Aragonès as a "starting point", and called on JxCat to join the agreement and "make it better." "We’ve done our homework," said Dolors Sabater, an MP for the far-left party.

According to Catalonia's electoral system, to be appointed as president in the first round of voting, Aragonès needs an absolute majority of the chamber to vote in favor (that is, at least 68 ‘yes’ votes). In the second round of voting, to be held either on Sunday or Tuesday, a simple majority is needed (more ‘yes’ than ‘no’ votes).

But as long as JxCat abstains, the votes of ERC and CUP will be insufficient to outnumber those from parties against Catalan independence.

Socialists accuse ERC of adopting ‘anti-system’ agenda

In the last election, ERC tied at 33 seats with the Socialists, who were the most voted party. Salvador Illa, who stepped down as Spain’s health minister to run as the Socialist candidate, rejected backing Aragonès and presented himself as the only real alternative to a pro-independence government.

"The Socialist victory makes a left-wing majority possible," said Illa, accusing Aragonès of opting instead to prolong "stagnation." "You’ll repeat a failure, but what we need is competence, not independence." 

Commenting on Aragonès’ government plan, Illa accused him of being "hostage to the political agenda of an anti-system party," in reference to CUP. 

The Socialist leader said that the ongoing independence push has led to the "decadence" of Catalonia and its institutions. "Today, Catalonia is not as [socially] cohesive as it was in 2010, poorer, and its institutions are less prestigious," said Illa. 

Walkout during far-right speech

One of the most remarkable moments of Friday’s session came when the leader of far-right Vox took to the stand and dozens of MPs staged a walkout to show their disagreement.

Ignacio Garriga, the leader of Vox, dismissed the protest action as "shameful," and went on to proclaim that the party would make sure "Spain recovers Catalonia." He also promised a "radical and head-on" opposition to independence.

Aragonès replied by reading excerpts of ‘Against hate’ by German author Carolin Emcke, and by bringing up the plight of Neus Català, a revered Catalan figure who survived a Nazi concentration camp.

Is a left-wing alliance still possible?

ERC needs JxCat's votes to form a government, but Aragonès also sought the support of En Comú Podem, a left-wing party that supports self-determination but is against independence.

The leader of ECP, Jéssica Albiach, admitted that the deal reached between ERC and CUP had "interesting proposals", and said she was dealing to enter a left-wing government with ERC, but admonished any political pact with JxCat.

"The bag you're carrying is too heavy, and you can't walk," said Albiach, in reference to ERC's troubled relationship with JxCat.

52% of votes, but 25% of the electoral census

Ciudadanos, the biggest party in the Catalan parliament until very recently, suffered a calamitous collapse in the February vote, losing 30 of its 36 MPs.

The party leader, Carlos Carrizosa, diminished the popularity of pro-independence parties, which surpassed 50% of the popular vote for the first time ever.

"I wouldn't expect you to be so happy with 52% of the votes, which represents 25% of the census," he said. "You can't declare independence with half of the half of Catalonia." 

Meanwhile, the conservative People's Party concurred with the decision not to support the pro-independence candidate, calling a vote for Pere Aragonès' presidential bid a vote for "Catalonia's decadence" and a "far-left agenda."