Electoral campaign kicks off with candidates in prison and exile
First event of parties in the December 21 run-up show polarization between pro-independence and unionist blocs, with only one party outside fronts
A very atypical election campaign in Catalonia started this Tuesday at midnight. Seven parties are expected to get seats in the Catalan Parliament in a vote that follows three months of high tension. A referendum on independence, the Spanish police violence to stop it, the declaration of independence, the enforcement of the Spanish Constitution article to enforce direct rule of Catalonia, the call of election from Madrid for the first time, the imprisonment of half of the Catalan government, the exile of the other half, and several demonstrations in favor of both sides have made this autumn exceptional.
And after so much intensity, it is time for voters to have their say. These ongoing developments are set to have an impact on the campaign, as the kick-off events of parties have reflected.
Puigdemont’s candidacy (JxCat): ‘We’ll vote with the October 1 in mind”
One of the candidacies running is Together for Catalonia (JxCAT), headed by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, currently in Brussels. It supports independence and, among others, this ticket includes imprisoned civil society leader Jordi Sànchez as second on the list, along with the recently freed ministers Josep Rull, Jordi Turull, and Joaquim Forn. In the kick-off event, Puigdemont took part via video to remember the referendum day and the violence displayed by the Spanish police that day.
Jailed Junqueras’ party (ERC) willing to win election to “win freedom”
Also on the side of pro-independence are Esquerra Republicana (ERC), headed by jailed minister Oriol Junqueras, and the also freed on Monday Dolors Bassa and Raül Romeva. The ticket includes the president of Parliament Carme Forcadell (out on €150,000 bond). Catalan Justice minister, also deposed by the Spanish government and freed on Monday, attended the kick-off event few hours later and was hugged by a number of party officials. “Oriol [Junqueras] told me that you can’t rest not even a second to reach freedom and to win the election,” he said. “By winning on December 21, we will also win the freedom of the ones far from home and in prison,” Mundó added.
Far-left pro-independence ticket (CUP) refers to Spain’s measures as “coup d’etat”
The third large party to share an objective of pro-independence is the far-left CUP. Although the CUP voted in favor of running in the elections alone, and not on a joint candidacy with other pro-independence parties, they share in the objective of majority in order to pursue independence plans. The ticket leader, Carles Riera, urged to “revert the coup d’etat and restore democracy” in the first event of their campaign.
"By winning on December 21, we will also win the freedom of the ones far from home and in prison"
Carles Mundó · Esquerra official and jailed Catalan ministers until Monday 4 December
Unionist Ciudadanos (C’s) calls to ‘put an end to madness’
On the unionist side, Ciudadanos (C’s) has been in the past two years the main party in the Catalan chamber. It has asked the Socialists and the People’s party, also against independence, to negotiate a coalition government with the candidate of the most voted party presiding it. The party president, Albert Rivera, said on Tuesday at midnight that his party is the only one capable of “defeating separatists” and “put an end once and for all to this madness.”
Socialists (PSC) ask for “reconciliation” leaving behind independence
Yet the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which has also positioned itself squarely against independence and for the Spanish government’s implementation of Article 155 over Catalonia, has rejected supporting C’s candidacy leader, Inés Arrimadas, for president. Led by Miquel Iceta, the Socialists want “a turnaround,” but without that meaning supporting a right-wing government. Iceta said on the campaign kick-off that “reconciliation” has to be sought and the “disaster” of independence has to be left behind.
The People’s Party (PPC) accuses independence supporters of “confrontation and social rupture”
The Catalan People’s Party (PPC), led by Xavier García Albiol, is seeking the “endorsement” of Catalans to the measures promoted by his party leader in Spain, Mariano Rajoy, including the dismissal of all Catalan government members. “Some will try to continue in the road of division, confrontation and social rupture, but we will work to change dynamics and we’ll be leading a government whose priority has to be sewing the fractures provoked by the ones in favor of independence,” said Albiol in the first event of the December 21 run-up. All three unionist parties are hoping that the pro-independence parties fall short of keeping the majority they have since 2015.
In-between Barcelona’s mayor ticket (CeC), against “the abuse of preemptive prison”
In between, Catalonia in Common (CeC) is presenting itself as the ones in the middle. “Neither 155 nor declaration of independence,” is what the party has been repeating for the past few weeks. Led by Xavier Domènech, they propose that the left-wing parties get closer, regardless of their opposed views on independence. The Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, took part in the campaign kick-off to stand against independence but also against “the abuse of preemptive prison.”
How does it work?
There are 135 seats in the Catalan parliament – so, the seven parties expected to get seats are vying for at least 68 of them, i.e. an absolute majority. If the pro-independence parties collectively achieve this, they plan to reinforce the results of the October 1 independence referendum and counteract the effects of Spain’s takeover of Catalonia’s self-rule. Meanwhile, if unionist parties prevail, they instead hope to achieve the opposite, thereby stopping the independence roadmap.
Yet, it’s also possible that neither bloc get the majority in Parliament. Indeed, there is one party expected to gain seats that has been explicit about their alliance neither to the pro-independence nor to the unionist camp. Closely linked to Podemos, the party is called Catalonia in Common-Podem, and it’s also affiliated with Barcelona’s own mayor Ada Colau.
By the time the December 21 election comes around, it will have followed a declaration of independence in the Catalan parliament, the Spanish government’s takeover of Catalonia’s self-rule and dismissal of its government, and the pre-emptive incarceration of some ministers and exile of others. Indeed, the upcoming elections themselves were called by the Spanish government as a counter-response to Catalonia’s push for independence.