Pro-independence parties hold on to majority in Catalan election

Unionist Ciutadans party gets the most votes, but independence bloc has more seats in Parliament

A voter on December 21 wearing a yellow ribbon in support of imprisoned Catalan leaders (by ACN)
A voter on December 21 wearing a yellow ribbon in support of imprisoned Catalan leaders (by ACN) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

December 21, 2017 11:43 PM

Pro-independence parties in Catalonia retained a majority of seats in the Parliament following the most crucial election in decades with a record turnout of 82%. Although the unionist Ciutadans party won the most votes and became the largest party in the chamber with 37 seats, it was a bittersweet victory: the three pro-independence parties combined got 70 seats out of 135—enough to form a new government.

The results raise questions over how Catalonia’s push for independence will now move forward with this renewed legitimacy after months of unprecedented tension. The Parliament declared independence on October 27 on the back of a referendum deemed illegal by the Spanish government. Immediately after, Madrid triggered Article 155 of the Constitution, dismissing president Carles Puigdemont and his ministers and imposing direct rule.

Madrid also dissolved the Parliament and called new elections—in which the pro-independence parties managed to repeat their parliamentary majority on Thursday, even though their most prominent leaders are either in jail or outside the country.

The pro-independence parties as a bloc also surpassed the unionists in votes: 47.5% against 43.4%. In total, the unionist parties secured 57 seats. Catalonia in Common, a left-wing coalition that refused to stand with either bloc, rejecting both unilateral independence and Spain’s measures to stop it, got eight seats.

Campaigning from Brussels, where he traveled after being dismissed, Puigdemont emerged as the winner in the pro-independence bloc. His Together for Catalonia ticket got 34 seats. As Puigdemont said during the campaign that he planned to come back to take up his seat in the Parliament, the question now is whether he will stick to this promise and risk arrest—and if so, when and how will he go about it.

Although being the polls’ favorite, left-wing Esquerra Republicana (ERC) became the third largest group in the chamber with 32 seats. The party’s leader, dismissed vice president Oriol Junqueras, was imprisoned on November 2 facing charges of rebellion and was not able to participate in the campaign.

In the previous Catalan election, in 2015, ERC and Puigdemont’s party won the election as coalition partners in the Together for Yes ticket, with 62 seats and 39.59% of the vote. This time, although running separately, they outperformed their previous numbers and got 66 seats.

However, as happened in 2015, the two main pro-independence parties fell short of a majority of seats to govern together and need the support of the far-left CUP party. Although only managing to keep four of the 10 seats they got in the past election, CUP will remain the kingmakers, allowing the pro-independence parties to retain their majority in the chamber and form a new government.

Ciutadans’ staggering performance left its allies on the unionist side with fewer seats than the polls predicted. Although the Socialists managed to secure 17 seats—one more than in the previous election— the party did not get the result that would allow them to have a say in forming a new government.

Meanwhile, the Catalan branch of Spain’s ruling People’s Party got its worst result in decades and became the smallest party in Parliament with only three seats.