The campaign for the municipal elections kicks off with polls indicating CiU winning in Barcelona
On May 22nd, Catalans will vote in their local elections. According to the recent polls the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU) is well positioned to win in many cities, towns and villages across Catalonia, and in particular in Barcelona. CiU’s candidate may become the next Mayor of Barcelona after 32 years of Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) leadership. The same change could happen in Girona, where polls indicate a tie. However it seems the PSC will maintain control of Lleida and Tarragona City Councils. The People’s Party (PP) speech is of major significance with their focus being on immigration and security.
Barcelona (ACN).- This Friday the campaign for the municipal elections kicks off, although the intense pre-campaign already started months ago. On May 22nd, the municipal elections take place all over Spain, but in 13 autonomous communities the autonomous parliament is also elected. This is not the case for Catalonia: the Parliament was elected last November and now Catalans will only vote for their councillors in all 947 town halls. However, the local-nature of these elections may have an important impact at Catalan level, which then can have an impact at Spanish level, especially regarding the fight against the public deficit. The major focus of these elections is Barcelona\u2019s City Council, where a major change is likely to take place. On Thursday the latest polls published before the campaign indicate a significant change of government in Barcelona\u2019s City Council, ending 32 years of consecutive Socialist power. The Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition Convergència i Unió (CiU) might win the Barcelona elections for the first time since the return to democracy, although it seems it will need support from other parties to run the city government. A government coalition with the PSC cannot be discarded, although other options such as the People\u2019s Party (PP) or the pro-Catalan independence coalition \u2018Unitat per Barcelona\u2019 (UpB) seem more likely to happen. Besides, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) will try to hold the Catalan capital and the main cities that make up the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, such as Badalona, where the PP could win its first large city council in Catalonia. A significant loss of support for the PSC would also mean losing control over the Barcelona Provincial Council and the future Metropolitan Area authority. However, there are going to be other battles across Catalonia, involving all the main Catalan parties, in order to get rid of the governing party, not to lose the control of a local council, to win an absolute majority or to prevent the extreme-right getting seats. Some of these battles are going to take place in Girona, Manresa, Igualada, La Seu d\u2019Urgell, Tàrrega, Vilafranca del Penedès, Vic or El Vendrell. Over the next 14 days, starting this Friday, meetings, posters, proposals and complaints will be common place.
The elections will have an impact at a Catalan level, as they can validate the first months of the new Catalan Government, run by CiU. If CiU wins in Barcelona and increases its support across Catalonia, which is the most likely option, the Catalan Government will get the citizen endorsement needed to undergo the severe austerity plan that will reduce public expenditure in order to decrease the public deficit. In the last number of weeks, protests from public sector employees like doctors are almost daily and an endorsement from the polls would authorise the Government to proceed with the reforms despite sector protests. On the contrary, if unexpectedly the PSC resists in Barcelona or CiU does not increase significantly its number of councillors across Catalonia, these results would send a clear warning to the Catalan Government. Without enough citizen support, the Government will then face a much more difficult situation to pass its reforms and budget austerity measures. This hypothetical scenario could have consequences at Catalan and Spanish level, as the objective to reduce Catalonia\u2019s public deficit would be more difficult to be reached by only reducing public expenditure. In 2010, the public deficit was 3.86% of the Catalan GDP, which in 2011 needs to be reduced to 1.3%. The autonomous community deficit and debt are much lower than the Spanish Government ones, despite the autonomous governments controlling a bit less than 40% of public expenditure and the welfare state\u2019s basic services. However, the autonomous community finances are in the centre of a debate launched in Madrid, mainly pushed by Spanish nationalism and a centralist trend, but also for the rigour of the economic crisis, the weakness of some savings banks and some local corruption cases. Now the autonomous communities cannot go beyond a 1.3% deficit in 2011, or the risk is the failure to meet the deficit reduction objectives for the whole of Spain, which could have consequences on the international financial markets, in the Euro-zone and the European Union. In other words, if the Catalan Government does not get enough citizen support in the May 22nd municipal elections, Spain\u2019s deficit reduction objective will be more difficult to meet. And this support will be mostly measured by the results in Barcelona\u2019s City Council.
The battle for Barcelona
CiU could win the elections in Barcelona, but they would be quite far from getting the necessary absolute majority. However, these are great results for the Catalan Nationalist force, as they would end 32 consecutive years of Socialist leadership in the Catalan capital. The PSC has been governing Barcelona since 1979, the year democratic municipal elections were held again after Franco\u2019s dictatorship. Recent polls indicate the PSC support plummeting in Barcelona and getting the worst results in the last three decades. The incumbent Mayor Jordi Hereu is attempting to get re-elected and hold control of the city government; however the PSC would lose two seats, passing from 14 to 12 councillors, according to the poll published by the \u2018Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas\u2019 (CIS) the day before the campaign kicked off. CiU\u2019s candidature, headed by Xavier Trias, could get 16 seats, up from the current 12, surpassing the PSC and becoming Barcelona\u2019s first party. Xavier Trias could therefore become the next Mayor of Barcelona. However, the absolute majority is 21 seats, and even the best polls for CiU\u2019s interests give them a maximum of 18 seats. If CiU ends quite close to the 21 required seats would mean they could run the city government alone, but most likely they will need to form a governing coalition or some sort of permanent alliance.
Barcelona\u2019s third party is the Conservative and Spanish Nationalist People\u2019s Party (PP). They currently have six seats. CIS poll gives them five seats, although other polls give them six or even seven. In all scenarios, it seems that the PP and CiU would together get 21 or more seats. For the first time, the right-wing parties would get more councillors than the left-wing parties.
Another possible ally for CiU is the pro-Catalan Independence coalition \u2018Unitat per Barcelona\u2019 (UpB), headed by Jordi Portabella from the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party \u2018Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya\u2019 (ERC). UpB\u2019s number two is Joan Laporta, the former president of football\u2019s club FC Barcelona, who entered politics a year ago and already ran in last November\u2019s Catalan elections. ERC currently has four seats in Barcelona. The CIS poll indicates that the coalition UpB would get four seats. ERC was not part of the city government this last term but from 1995 to 2007, it formed a governing coalition with the PSC and the Catalan Green Socialist Party \u2018Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds\u2019 (ICV-EUiA). ICV-EUiA, whose candidature is headed by Ricard Gomà for the first time, will maintain its four seats. Therefore the so-called Three Party Government would probably not be formed, as the PSC, UpB and ICV-EUiA only have 20 seats, one less than the absolute majority. However, Joan Laporta and other members of the UpB candidature do not seem very keen in supporting the PSC, as they consider it has too many links with the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). Finally, it does not seem likely that parties without seats at Barcelona\u2019s City Council will get representation and therefore the local assembly will still be formed by five political forces.
Winds of change in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area
Barcelona municipality is actually only a small part of Greater Barcelona. For instance Catalonia\u2019s second most populated city, L\u2019Hospitalet del Llobregat is, from an urban perspective, a neighbourhood of Barcelona as they are literally stuck together: one side of the street belongs to Barcelona and the other side to L\u2019Hospitalet. The same goes for other cities in the Metropolitan Area, such as Badalona or Sant Adrià del Besós. However, Barcelona\u2019s City Council only rules Barcelona municipality, which has around 1.6 million inhabitants (the Metropolitan Area has more than 4.5 million inhabitants). L\u2019Hospitalet, Badalona or Sant Adrià have their own city councils. In some of those cities, such as Badalona, political change can happen and the People\u2019s Party (PP) could gain control of the city council.
In Badalona, the PP candidate for mayor, Xavier García Albiol, has an aggressive campaign that focuses on immigration, security and the economic crisis. The PSC leads the local government, but the second party is the PP and it could become the leader. If this change happened, for the first time in democratic times, the PP would win a municipal election in a Catalan city, as until now it has only ruled some few small towns and villages in Catalonia.
The PP focuses its campaign on immigration and security issues
García Albiol is continuing and even increasing his stance, which gave him good results four years ago and in the past Catalan elections. Badalona is a working-class city with an important number of foreigners in its neighbourhoods. García Albiol stated two days ago that he \u201Cwill make the life of illegal immigrants impossible until they get tired and leave\u201D the country. \u201CI will bitter their lifes\u201D he said. With the campaign\u2019 slogan \u201CMany think it. I say it\u201D, García Albiol has been linking immigration and insecurity. He also denounces social aid for immigrants, \u201Cas people from here go first\u201D. In this city, the PP has a populist stance that some people and parties such as ICV-EUiA see as xenophobic. In fact, ICV-EUiA already took García Albiol to court last autumn. The Catalan direction of the PP endorsed and continues endorsing García Albiol. In fact, the President of the PP\u2019s Catalan branch, Alícia Sánchez Camacho was last year in Badalona distributing leaflets with García Albiol in which immigration and insecurity were clearly associated. The PP is thus raising the tone and focusing its strategy on immigration-related issues, as well as the effects of the economic crisis.
The PSC can lose Barcelona Provincial Council\u2019s control
The results within the city councils condition the Provincial Council\u2019s political colour. Since the PSC is the first party in almost of the cities and towns of the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, it has been running Barcelona Provincial Council since 1979. However, if a CiU victory is large enough, especially in Barcelona City Council, the PSC could lose its hegemonic position within this institution that manages supramunicipal services. The Provincial Council power is not very important, but if Barcelona Provincial Council changes its political colour, it would be politically relevant mainly for its symbolic importance. Besides, in September, the new Metropolitan Authority should start running and it will be controlled by the Metropolitan Area\u2019s town halls.
Other battles across Catalonia
Despite Barcelona\u2019s battle being the main focus of attention, there are many battles across Catalonia. The next municipal elections could change the political colours of many town halls in Catalonia. Some battles are to overtake the local government, others to defend it, others to get an absolute or a more comfortable majority, and others to stop the extreme-right, which is present in several town halls. The latter is the case in Vic or El Vendrell, whose town councils have the extreme-right and xenophobic party Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC) among its members. PxC is a very small and marginal party in Catalonia, but in these elections it could get some seats in Barcelona\u2019s Metropolitan Area (not in Barcelona city) as well as in other towns with a significant immigrant population, such as Salt, next to Girona.
The city of Girona is another of these battlegrounds. It has a political landscape similar to Barcelona\u2019s with the PSC leading since 1979 but now with a reduced number of seats. There, recent polls indicate a draw between the PSC and CiU in the number of seats. Therefore the future government is difficult to call. However, in the two other province capitals, Lleida and Tarragona, the PSC would keep the control of the city council and even increase its support. However, the PSC is likely to lose the control of Manresa, Igualada, Tàrrega or even Mataró, to mention some of Catalonia\u2019s medium-size cities. In Manresa, the PSC was running the city with the so-called Three-Party coalition, together with ERC and ICV-EUiA. CiU has a serious possibility of winning in all these cities. In the Pyrenees, in La Seu d\u2019Urgell, the PSC won the last elections but with too few seats and lost the control of the town hall. There, CiU is now likely to increase its support, become the first party and keep governing but with a more comfortable position.