Support for Esquerra's minority government not guaranteed as deadline looms

Other main pro-independence party, Junts, will not back new cabinet "for free" and call for coalition talks to resume

Acting president and ERC presidential candidate Pere Aragonès sits alone in parliament, April 29, 2021 (by Marta Sierra)
Acting president and ERC presidential candidate Pere Aragonès sits alone in parliament, April 29, 2021 (by Marta Sierra) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

May 10, 2021 07:32 PM

Yes, political drama is guaranteed in Catalonia this month – once again. The power vacuum created since Quim Torra was ousted from the presidency 224 days ago continues – although an election was held on February 14, 85 days ago – and if it lasts another 16 days, voters will go to the polls again. Check out this guide to find out what is going on.

What was the result of the election?

The tight result in the vote was inconclusive, with three parties separated by a single seat at the top.

In the independence bloc, all three parties are needed to build a majority – alternatively, the Socialists, who won the most votes, but only just, would need one of the three pro-independence parties in order to govern, something that is not going to happen.

So, the pro-independence parties will govern again?

Well, so far things have not gone that smoothly. Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) kicked off talks to repeat the current coalition, but with exchanged roles, as the former prevailed within the independence bloc for the first time in modern times.

Yet, negotiations have proved just as troublesome as their shared government of the past three years. A number of meetings, two of which took place in Lledoners prison, have so far failed to produce a deal.

What are the disagreements between these two parties?

Differences of opinion have arisen over who should be in charge of overseeing the path to independence, with Carles Puigdemont's party insisting on the former president's private organization Council for the Republic, and Esquerra and CUP – the far-left pro-independence party which sealed a deal to back the Esquerra's presidential candidate, Pere Aragonès, but remaining in opposition – being skeptical and accusing the entity of being "biased."

The number of ministries, the structure of government, who is in charge of managing the European post-Covid funds and the fact that part of the clearly left-leaning ERC-CUP deal contradicts Junts' manifesto in social and economic issues have all been reasons to clash.

But what they have been disagreeing with ever since the 2017 independence referendum is what's next on the road to a split with Spain. While the Republicans prioritize dialogue with the Spanish government, JxCat want to follow the 2017 path of unilateral moves and "intelligent confrontation" with Madrid.

What's the latest move about?

Last Saturday, Aragonès, whose bid was rejected in parliament in late March, announced on that they think a new coalition with Junts is impossible for the latter's "lack of readiness" and that they will seek a minority government, that is, an all-Esquerra cabinet. That would mean governing Catalonia with just 33 out of the 135 MPs supporting government parties, or, in this case, party.

Do they have enough seats for that?

No. For this to happen, they would still need Junts to back the current interim president in a parliamentary vote to elect a new head of government – to be held no later than May 26.

Esquerra have almost taken for granted the votes of the other main pro-independence party's votes, even if that means them being left out of the new cabinet, based on an April 4 statement by Junts' secretary general, Jordi Sànchez: "We will not speculate with an election. If they want, they can set up a minority government."

Yet, as usual in Catalan politics, this is not going to be so easy. On Monday, Sànchez said that ERC's move is "outrageous" and called on their partners thus far to resume coalition talks. Otherwise, he said, they will not back the new cabinet "for free" if they are not part of it.

Can Esquerra seek enough support without Junts' votes?

Well, it does not seem likely. Aragonès said on Saturday that they do not want the Socialists' backing – they are unionists and supported the suspension of self-rule after the 2017 independence push –, and indeed, the Socialist Party said they will ask for something in exchange for this potential support.

So, what then?

Aragonès has a deal with CUP, so the anticapitalists will back him as new president as long as any deals with other parties are not incompatible with their one – in any case, they will not join the cabinet though –, but their votes that are not enough for a new cabinet.

En Comú Podem, or 'Comuns', an anti-austerity force in favor of an independence referendum but siding against a split from Spain, could also play a role. They are holding the first formal conversation with Esquerra on Monday afternoon, and their leader, Jéssica Albiach, aims to join the executive. "It is much better to have a government with 41 seats than with 33," she said. But still, either the Socialists or Junts' MPs would be needed to launch the term.

Yet, the first party in the pro-independence bloc has made clear that, for now, that they want to govern alone and are only seeking support from parties they expect to stay in opposition.

Would Junts support a left-wing ERC-CUP-Comuns deal?

Sànchez said on Saturday that they are ready to grant four of their seats so that an ERC-led cabinet gets up and running – the minimum votes needed for the math to work out – yet the fact that most of them would not vote Yes would demonstrate their disapproval.

As for the Socialists, they do not look receptive to joining these groups.

And what about an ERC-CUP one?

JxCat did not say what they would vote in this event – but what is sure is that more than four of their representatives would have to agree.

It's so complicated… If ERC and JxCat are unable to reach any consensus within the coming 16 days, are we heading to a snap election?

Things are beginning to move towards another vote in the first fortnight of July, indeed… Unionist parties such as Ciudadanos are already predicting this scenario, saying that pro-independence parties think "the people's vote is worth nothing." The People's Party think the lack of government is a "disgrace."

But, do not forget that eleventh-hour moves, U-turns, unexpected shifts and all sort of drama have been going on constantly for the past decade. So, to be safe, do not take anything for granted and watch this space in the coming days.