The main Catalan candidates for the Spanish elections

Next November 20th, Spaniards will vote for the new Spanish Parliament. They will elect one of the lists running in their province, which is their constituency. Catalans will thus elect the lists running in the four Catalan provinces. Therefore, they will not directly elect Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba (PSOE) or Mariano Rajoy (PP), but their party candidates in Catalonia, as well as parties only running in Catalonia, such as the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) or the Catalan Green Socialist Coalition (ICV-EUiA).

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 8, 2011 02:08 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- Who are the main candidates of the parties running in Catalonia for the next Spanish general elections of November 20th? Votes in Catalonia have been crucial to the development of the Spanish elections, especially in 2004 and 2008, when they decided the winner. However, Catalans will not directly vote for the Spanish Socialist Party’s (PSOE) candidate to become the new Prime Minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, neither for the People’s Party’s (PP) candidate, Mariano Rajoy. Catalans will vote for the candidates on the lists running in their province, since the Spanish elections are organised in 50 provincial constituencies (plus Ceuta and Melilla). Among many other lists and NOTA vote, most of the Catalans will vote for the candidates of Catalonia’s five main parties. The top candidates of these five parties run in Barcelona province, which concentrates almost three quarters of Catalonia’s population. They are the following: for the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) –which is part of the PSOE-, Carme Chacón, the current Spanish Minister of Defence; for the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU), Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, CiU’s “number two” and currently CiU’s Spokesperson at the Spanish Parliament; for the People’s Party (PP), Jorge Fernández Díaz, a veteran MP who has been close to the party leadership in Catalonia over the last decades; for the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party ‘Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya’ (ERC), Alfred Bosch, a historian without any formal experience in politics but who won the party primaries; and, for the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition ‘Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds - Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (ICV-EUiA), Joan Coscubiela, the former leader of the Catalan Worker’s Commissions trade union(CCOO).

Spain’s electoral landscape is complex, as Spain’s political organisation is complex, due to its complex political reality. There are large parties running all over Spain, and smaller parties running only in a few provinces, which sometimes form specific electoral coalitions in a given province. Furthermore, in the Basque Country and in Catalonia, these local parties might be stronger than the main Spanish parties in the particular territory. The reason is that Catalonia and the Basque Country have a completely different political landscape than the rest of Spain.

Catalonia has a different political landscape to the rest of Spain

In general terms, in Spain, parties are organised on the right/left axis and on the centralism/decentralisation axis, which has an emotional dimension linked to nationalism. The centralism/decentralisation axis is also seen by many as the Spanish nationalism/Peripheral nationalism axis. In the centre of Spain, where around 25% of the population is concentrated, there is a very wide consensus on the Centralism/Decentralisation axis. Public opinion there is mainly centralist and defends Spanish nationalism. However, in Spain’s peripheral Autonomous Communities, which concentrate 75% of Spain’s population, this axis plays an essential role defining the political landscape. Particularly in the so-called by the Spanish Constitution peripheral “nationalities”; a term used to replace “nations”, as Spanish nationalism did not tolerate Spain to be recognised as a “pluri-national” state or “a nation of nations”.

Catalonia is one of such nations, one of those “nationalities” as said in the Constitution. Therefore, there are Catalan nationalist parties, defending greater decentralisation, and more autonomy for Catalonia. There are also parties defending Spanish nationalist stances. And there are other parties that feel uncomfortable with the “nationalist” term, but defend a decentralised Spain and a greater recognition of Catalonia’s own identity and culture.

Who runs in Catalonia?

The two main political parties in Spain, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the People’s Party (PP), present lists in all Spanish constituencies, including Catalonia. In addition, there are smaller parties, only from Catalonia, which run in the four Catalan provinces, but do not run in the rest of Spain. Traditionally, the main candidate in Catalonia is the person heading the list running in Barcelona province, a tradition respected this time as well.

Spain’s Defence Minister, Carme Chacón, for the PSC

The PSOE in Catalonia runs as the PSC, the Catalan Socialist Party. The reason is that three decades ago, the PSOE merged with Catalan Socialist parties, and they formed the PSC. Organically, the PSC is part of the PSOE, organised as a federation, and it has a certain degree of independence. The PSC is currently going through a transition period, after having lost last year’s Catalan elections and being removed from the Catalan Government. The party will have a new leadership in December.

The current managers, together with the PSOE electoral committee, decided to back Carme Chacón, the current Spanish Minister of Defence, to top the Barcelona list. The last official poll from the Spanish Statistics Institute (CIS) released last Friday gave the PSC 16 MPs, out of the 47 seats elected in Catalonia. Chacón already headed that list in the 2008 elections, and she got the best results ever in Catalonia. The PSC won 25 MPs (out of 47). Now, the PSC risks to loose more than a third of its seats in Catalonia. In 2011, Chacón tried to be the PSOE’s candidate to become the next Spanish Prime Minister, substituting José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero. In fact, she was perceived as Zapatero’s heir, as she is very close to the current PM and represents a similar way of understanding politics. Probably because of a general will for change from Zapatero’s style and because she is still seen as too inexperienced compared to Rubalcaba, Chacón did not win the PSOE’s nomination. Her political career began next to Zapatero. When he was elected the PSOE’s Secretary General in 2000, Chacón became one of his closest advisors, in charge of Education issues. Once in Government, in 2004, she became the first Vice President of the Spanish Parliament. Chacón had worked earlier as a Constitutional Law teacher. In 2007 she joined the Government and became Housing Minister. After the 2008 elections, in Zapatero’s second term she was the first woman to be appointed Defence Minister in Spain. The image of her walking in front of the soldiers pregnant was on many media worldwide.

CiU’s number two, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, to head the lists

The second party in number of votes in the Spanish elections in Catalonia is the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition ‘Convergència i Unió’ (CiU). However, in the last Catalan elections, as well as the municipal ones, CiU became Catalonia’s first party, and one could say the hegemonic party. Currently, CiU has almost an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament, and runs the Catalan Government. In addition, it also manages the government of the country’s main cities, with very few exceptions (such as Tarragona, Lleida, L’Hospìtalet de Llobregat and Badalona). In the last municipal elections CiU won in Barcelona and in Girona, ending in both cities 32 years of Socialist victories. Furthermore, CiU controls the four provincial councils, the supra-municipal administration below the autonomous community government. In such a privileged position, CiU needs to get good results in the Spanish Parliament in order to have the strength to negotiate with the future Prime Minister. The current financial crisis has forced all governments to implement unpopular austerity measures. In Catalonia, CiU is implementing budget cuts to significantly reduce the public deficit. However, Catalonia is also suffering from a redistribution system that makes Catalonia loose each year around 8.5% of its annual GDP in terms of regional solidarity with Spain’s poorer regions, meaning a transfer of around 18 billion euros. Around three thirds of Catalans want to change this, to continue with regional solidarity, but to limit it, to reduce its proportion. As an indication, the Catalan Government’s deficit corresponded to 4.2% in 2010, half the money given away to the rest of Spain.

CiU’s main proposal is what they call “a fiscal agreement with Spain”, in line with what the Basque Country and Navarra have. In order to negotiate with the new Spanish Government, CiU has chosen a strong candidate, its “number 2”, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, the leader of CiU’s Christian Democrat branch (CiU is a federation of two parties: a larger Liberal party and a smaller Christian Democrat). Duran i Lleida is an experienced politician, with a wide trajectory at Spanish-level starting in 1982, when he was elected member of the Spanish Parliament for the first time. He has been MP of the European Parliament in the lat 1980s, and Minister of the Catalan Government in the late 1990s. He was candidate to lead the CiU after Jordi Pujol’s retirement, but finally Artur Mas –the current Catalan President was chosen– and Duran i Lleida accepted being the official “number two” of the federation. In 2004 and 2008, Duran i Lleida headed CiU’s lists for the Spanish Parliament, when it won 10 MPs. Now, he repeats the position and the last CIS poll gave 13 MPs to the CiU.

Veteran MP Jorge Fernández Díaz for the PP

The People’s Party is very likely to win the next Spanish elections. According to most of the polls, it will get an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament, winning almost in all provinces. However, in Catalonia, the PP is very far topping the polls. Traditionally, Catalonia has been a tough place for the PP, since this party represents Spanish nationalism in the eyes of many Catalan citizens. Despite getting its best results in the Spanish elections (compared to the Catalan or the municipal ones), the PP won 8 MPs in Catalonia in 2008, out of 47. In 2004 it won only 6 MPs. However, the last poll released by the CIS predicts 12 MPs for the PP, which could mean a 50% increase from last elections. The PP has been trying to soften its past stance against Catalan nationalism in order to win votes in Catalonia; and it appears it has realised that it will be very difficult to get a wide absolute majority in Spain while having a bad electoral result in Catalonia. The PP has been improving its results in Catalonia, as seen in the past municipal elections held last May and the Catalan elections held in November 2011.

Now it has chosen a moderate profile, with experience, to lead the lists. The PP has chosen Jorge Fernández Díaz to top Barcelona’s list. Fernández Díaz is an historical member of the PP’s Catalan branch, brother of the former leader in Catalonia Alberto Fernández Díaz. However, Jorge Fernández Díaz has always been in the background, close to the party leadership and with a career more focused in Spain’s affairs. He has been member of the Spanish Parliament since 1989 and deputy minister in all the governments of Jose María Aznar.

Independent historian Alfred Bosch for ERC

The Catalan Independence Party ‘Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya’ (ERC) is running in the Spanish elections after a massive change in the party leadership, caused by several electoral disasters. ERC was part of the Left-Wing Catalan Government, in a three party coalition together with the Socialists and the Eco-Socialists. Part of ERC supporters did not understand the seven-year agreement running the Catalan Government with the Socialist party, which does not support Catalonia’s independence. Those supporters considered ERC conceived its ideals defending Catalonia’s independence from Spain, and stepped back or even participated in other pro-Catalan independence initiatives. One of these initiatives is actually a split from ERC, called ‘Reagrupament’. In November 2010, in the last Catalan elections, several parties supporting independence from Spain ran, and ERC passed from 21 to 10 MPs in the Catalan Parliament. This caused a deep leadership crisis, and the entire party management was renovated this summer. The new leadership did not want the former Secretary General, Joan Ridao, to head Barcelona’s list in the next Spanish elections, as he did in 2008. However, Ridao publicly asked for it and participated in a primary election. The preferred candidate of the new leadership, Alfred Bosch, won.

Bosch is not officially a member of the ERC, but he is very close to Catalan independence movements. He represents a more straight forward approach, as he was the spokesperson of the platform organising popular voting (a civil society initiative) on Catalan independence in Barcelona, which was part of the popular votes organised across Catalonia between 2009 and 2011. Bosch, is an historian and a writer, author of some historical novels, and has broad experience as a university professor. However, he has no formal experience in politics. Bosch heads ERC’s lists, which forms a coalition with the former split ‘Reagrupament’. Currently, ERC has 3 MPs in the Spanish Parliament. The last poll predicts it will repeat the same results.

Former union leader Joan Coscubiela for ICV-EUiA

The coalition formed by the Catalan Green Socialists ‘Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds’ (ICV) and ‘Esquerra Unida i Alternativa’ (EUiA), the Catalan branch of the Communist ‘Izquierda Unida’, is one of the secondary political forces in Catalonia, but it was part of the coalition running the Government between 2003 and 2010. In the last elections, it has been loosing support. However, in the last year, ICV-EUiA has stressed its left-wing stance, as an answer to the 15-M movements, the ‘indignados’ movement against the way the financial and economic crises are being handled.

In order to emphasise this change, ICV-EUiA’s list for Barcelona is headed by Joan Coscubiela, who used to be the leader in Catalonia of the trade union Workers’ Commissions (CCOO). ICV-EUiA formed a group in the Spanish Parliament with ‘Izquierda Unida’, which in the 1980s used to be Spain’s third party but in the last elections it only won 2 MPs. ICV-EUiA got only 1 in 2008 (in 2004 it had 2 MPs). Coscubiela replaces Joan Herrera at the top of Barcelona’s list, since Herrera is now ICV’s President after a leadership change and leads ICV in the Catalan Parliament. Polls predict ICV-EUiA could get up to 3 MPs.