State of alarm over: Catalonia on the verge of a snap election again

Friction among governing pro-independence parties as Supreme Court might oust president and Congress to vote on JxCat MP's immunity

The Catalan president, JxCat's Quim Torra (left), with the vice president, ERC's Pere Aragonès, on June 2 (by Jordi Bedmar/Government)
The Catalan president, JxCat's Quim Torra (left), with the vice president, ERC's Pere Aragonès, on June 2 (by Jordi Bedmar/Government) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

June 22, 2020 11:55 AM

The health emergency is still attracting much of the attention of Catalan politics, but as the state of alarm is coming to an end, the issues abruptly interrupted due to Covid-19 begin to arise again – among them, the fragility of the governing coalition, the uncertainty surrounding the talks with the Spanish government, and the increasing possibility of a snap election forced by Spain's judiciary.

September 17: disqualification on president to be reviewed

President Quim Torra was barred from public office last December after a trial in the Catalan high court found him guilty of disobedience – the case refers to his failure to remove signs in favor of the yellow ribbons in the April 2019 election campaign within a deadline set by the electoral board.

Yet, that was not a final rule, and Spain's Supreme Court will hold a hearing on September 17 to review the case – their say is expected within weeks.

If Torra's conviction is confirmed, he will be ousted from power. In this event, the Catalan parliament would have to elect a new head of government – if lawmakers find no consensus within two months, an automatic snap election will be called.

Discrepancies over calling snap election before judicial decision

Torra's provisional disqualification led to him being removed his MP status in January, which was the reason for a government crisis between his party, Junts per Catalunya, and its ally, ERC.

The president said that due to the tension, a snap election would be called as soon as the 2020 Catalan budget was passed.

Yet, in April, when the spending plan was passed in the middle of the pandemic, no one dared to urge the president to keep his word.

However in the past few weeks, some parties are urging Torra to call the vote, like the Socialists, and ERC urges him to agree on the date with them – but the president is in no rush, with the health crisis still open.

"I will send residents to the polling stations once all the solutions to find a way out to the crisis are put on track," he said on Wednesday.

ERC says that the Supreme Court de facto forcing an election in autumn needs to be avoided.

Fragile government coalition

Junts per Catalunya and ERC, both pro-independence, have been clashing during the whole two-and-a-half-year term.

The former, led by exiled leader Carles Puigdemont and President Quim Torra, aims to declare a Catalan state with a "democratic, peaceful confrontation" by following the 2017 push – the current head of government wants to hold a referendum "as soon as possible."  

The latter prioritizes negotiations with Spain to persuade Madrid to agree on a referendum.

The Catalan government has worked united during the crisis, but the coalition parties disagreed on whether to support or reject the state of alarm imposed by the Spanish government.

Open talks with Spain retaken in July?

The Catalan and Spanish governments are expected to resume their talks on the Catalan independence conflict next month, according to Madrid.

The Spanish and Catalan presidents met on February 6 to kick off talks. 

This led to the launch of meetings between both governments, with 8 people on each side, who were committed to holding one per month – although each cabinet has very different starting points.

Yet, these talks have only taken place once so far, on February 26, in Madrid, and were halted due to Covid-19.

Within the Catalan government, one party, Torra's Junts per Catalunya, is more skeptical about any possible outcome, while the other, Esquerra Republicana, is more optimistic.

Lifting immunity to pro-independence MP

The fears of a snap election are growing, but they could hastily be confirmed this week.

On Thursday, June 25, Spain's Congress will vote on whether to lift Junts per Catalunya's MP Laura Borràs' immunity – the Supreme Court wants to investigate her for allegedly favoring a friend in a public contract.

It is given for granted that a majority of lawmakers will lift her immunity, but will ERC and also pro-independence CUP also vote in favor?

Borràs says she is victim of the "repression" against the independence movement, like the jailed leaders, and ERC says "persecution" needs to be denounced, but any doubts on wrongdoing also need to be faded.

Should Oriol Junqueras' party supports waiving Borràs' immunity, the fracture in the government would widen.