Election campaign draws to a close with tight races in Catalan capitals

Polls will open on Sunday, with more than five million people eligible to vote

The Barcelona mayoral race contenders in the May 2023 election before the Catalan public TV and radio debate
The Barcelona mayoral race contenders in the May 2023 election before the Catalan public TV and radio debate / Blanca Blay

Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

May 27, 2023 10:53 AM

Campaigning for the local election ended on Friday night, with mayoral candidates across Catalonia making one last push to rally voters before polls open on Sunday.

Overall, there are 947 municipalities in Catalonia, with more than five million people who are eligible to vote, including over 67,000 foreigners

Uncertainty looms large over the upcoming election, with neck-and-neck races in Barcelona and the regional capitals of Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona.

Even after results come out on Sunday night, negotiations to appoint a mayor could still take days, as the candidate with the most votes might not necessarily come to power.

Barcelona mayor vying for third term

The Catalan capital is always one of the most pivotal battlegrounds when it comes to the local election. Incumbent Ada Colau is hoping to win a third consecutive term after bursting onto the political scene in 2015 as an anti-eviction activist leading a grassroots left-wing movement.

At the closing rally of her party Barcelona En Comú on Friday, Colau urged her followers to back her for a third term, to continue with her trademark policies of reducing car traffic and reclaiming city streets for pedestrians.

Polls predict a virtual tie between Colau and her two main contenders: Xavier Trias, a former mayor attempting a comeback, and Jaume Collboni, Colau’s former deputy mayor, who quit the local government to challenge her.

Trias, who ruled Barcelona from 2011 to 2015, hopes to reclaim his role as mayor at the age of 76, and is rallying support from pro-independence supporters as the candidate of Junts party.

Collboni, the mayoral candidate of the Socialist party, has been very critical of Colau, despite being former coalition partners, and says he does not intend to repeat the role this time.

In 2019, ERC party mayoral candidate, 80-year-old Ernest Maragall, won the most votes, but is predicted to come in fourth place this time, according to polls. 

Also vying for local seats in Barcelona are the conservative People’s Party, far-right Vox, and far-left CUP.

Candidates will need the support of at least 21 out of the 41 plenary seats in order to become the next mayor. If no absolute majority is reached, the frontrunner with the most ballots will be automatically named mayor on June 17.

That was going to be the case in 2019 as Ernest Maragall received the most votes in the election, but a coalition between Colau, Collboni, and centrist former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls permitted the En Comú candidate to keep the mayorship at the last minute.

Tight races in Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona

When polls open on Sunday, some of the tightest battles for mayor are set to take place in the cities of Girona, Lleida and Tarragona, the regional capitals of Catalonia alongside Barcelona. 

For decades, since the transition to democracy after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the Socialists reigned supreme in these urban strongholds. 

But a surge in support for pro-independence parties in the 2010s put an end to the Socialists' rule – in Girona, in 2011, and in Lleida and Tarragona, in 2019. 

In all three politically divided cities, post-electoral alliances and deals will be key to securing power and passing legislation after May 28. 

Pro-independence parties will be hoping to hold off the challenge from the Socialists, while Ciudadanos could be left without representation after years of declining support, and far-right Vox could make an appearance for the first time ever.

Pro-independence parties face off for rural hegemony

In the more inland areas of Catalonia, the municipal elections this year are expected to be a showdown between the pro-independence parties

The two mainstream parties, Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya, will be vying for rural hegemony, but the third strongest force, CUP, also usually performs strongly across the territory. 

Most inland county capitals elected councils clearly in favor of independence in 2019. Vic returned 20 pro-independence council members out of a total of 21 elected, Berga and Banyoles saw 16 of 17, while every councilor elected in 2019 in Les Borges Blanques is in favor of a split from Spain. Solsona and Moià both had 12 of 13 council members from pro-independence parties, Olot 18 of 21, Tàrrega 15 of 17, and Ripoll 14 of 17, to highlight just a few. 

Of the 947 municipalities across Catalonia, Esquerra are running in 804 this year, while Junts are standing in 728. Last time out, control was relatively even split, but with Junts coming out on top, 379 to 343.