ERC: the pro-independence claiming to offer 'repression or democracy'

Esquerra candidate in the Spanish election Gabriel Rufián (by Guillem Roset)
Esquerra candidate in the Spanish election Gabriel Rufián (by Guillem Roset) / Neil Stokes

Neil Stokes | Barcelona

November 8, 2019 07:39 PM

"Repression or democracy," is the choice facing voters when they go to the polls in the general election on November 10, according to the pro-independence Esquerra Republicana (ERC), the Catalan party with the most seats in the Spanish congress.

In fact, if predictions in the latest poll by the CIS public research institute are correct, ERC could see its 15 seats in the chamber rise to 18, making its votes a tempting prospect for a Socialist Party (PSOE) in desperate need of enough support to form a government.

Main candidate, Gabriel Rufián, has characterized the party's election strategy as "weakening" PSOE's leader and acting Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, in order to "force him" to sit down and negotiate a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia.

In this sense, ERC has presented itself as the "only obstacle" to preventing Sánchez from making a deal with Spain's conservative unionist parties, which Rufián argues would mean "regression of civil, social and national rights" in both Catalonia and Spain.

Party members in prison and exile

With ERC party leader Oriol Junqueras jailed for 13 years by Spain's Supreme Court for his role as vice president during the 2017 independence bid, the situation of Catalan leaders in prison and exile is another major point in ERC's election manifesto.

"Faced with the shameful sentences, faced with the state's drift towards authoritarianism, the best response is to persist. Let's show them that we will not surrender," was parliament speaker Roger Torrent's call for votes in a recent campaign event.

Party member and Catalonia's previous speaker, Carme Forcadell, is one of the jailed leaders, and at another event she had a similar message for supporters, calling for "persistence, persistence, persistence against the repression and the sentences."

Commitment to independence

Persisting in the cause of Catalonia's independence is part of ERC's DNA. Francesc Macià spent time in prison and exile for opposing the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in the 1920s, and went on to declare a Catalan Republic soon after founding the party in 1931.

While Macià was forced to climb down and settle for being the president of an autonomous Catalan government, his successor and party co-founder, Lluís Companys, again declared a republic in 1934, and was later executed in 1940 by the Franco regime after the Civil War.

A commitment to independence has been among ERC's principles ever since, and in the last Catalan election the party increased its seats by six, to 32, as part of the Junts pel Sí pro-independence coalition, whose overall majority allowed it to form the next government.

That meant that ERC ministers and officials were among the main organizers of the unilateral independence referendum in 2017, which led the Spanish authorities to suspend Catalonia's self-rule and imprison the leaders, while others went into exile.

Amnesty, self-determination, and republic

Getting those leaders out of prison and allowing the exiles to return is now one of ERC's priorities, and former justice minister, Carles Mundó, said recently that the party favors an amnesty for the prisoners and exiles as a "starting point" for solving the Catalan crisis.

In order to even begin considering such a move, ERC first needs to do well in the November 10 election, and if possible improve on its current number of seats in the Spanish parliament, as party coordinator and Catalan vice president, Pere Aragonés, has pointed out.

In a campaign event, Aragonès said the choice for voters is between a PSOE that "celebrates the sentences" and an ERC championing "amnesty, self-determination and a Catalan republic," which he said will only be "achieved with votes at the ballot box."