Who is who in the Catalan elections?

Artur Mas, José Montilla, Joan Puigcercós, the PPC, ICV-EUiA, CiU, Ciutadans, the Catalan Parliament, the Catalan Government… What is all this? Those not familiar with the Catalan political ecosystem maybe become easily lost. Here you will find some keys to better understand what’s going on these days.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

November 19, 2010 09:50 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The first thing to know is that on Sunday the 28th of November the Catalan elections will be held. Catalan citizens with Spanish nationality who are more than 17 years old will be called to elect the members of the 135-seat Catalan Parliament. Catalonia is a parliamentary regime, with a single Parliament. Therefore, the new Parliament will elect the new Catalan Government. The leader of the political group who receives the largest support in Parliament forms the government. Currently, 6 parties have parliamentary representation. According to the polls, 1 or 2 other parties may also get a seat in the Parliament. However, up to 114 different parties run, some of them only in one of the 4 constituencies in which Catalonia is divided.

The constituencies and the electoral system

Catalonia is divided into 4 constituencies, corresponding to the 4 provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Each constituency has a different weight within the Parliament, taking into account the population, but also the geographic size. Therefore, the number of seats differs between provinces.

Barcelona is by far the most populated area of the country and thus the constituency with the most seats in the Catalan Parliament. The Parliament has 135 seats, a fixed number in the last 30 years. 85 of the seats come from Barcelona, 18 from Tarragona, 17 from Girona, and 15 from Lleida. These figures have not changed since 1979.

The seats are given by a proportional system within each constituency that follows the D’Hondt law. There is also a limit to the number of votes the party must obtain to get into the Parliament: 3% of votes in an electoral circumscription. Parties present a fixed list of candidates. They can run in all 4 constituencies (the majority), or just in some of them. They can also form electoral coalitions in 1 constituency and then run separately in others.

Traditionally, the number 1 on the list for Barcelona is the party leader and the candidate for President of the Catalan Government. The leader thus tops a list of 85 names for Barcelona. Other important figures of the party are placed onto the first positions of the list in order to ensure their election. It is also a prestigious position to head the list for the other 3 constituencies.

Artur Mas, the CiU’s leader and most likely the next Catalan President

Artur Mas is the president of the coalition Convergència i Unió (CiU), the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Federation. It is a coalition comprised of 2 parties. The larger of the two is Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, which is a moderate to strong nationalist liberal party, as some of its members want Catalan independence. The party is lead by the coalition’s leader, Artur Mas, who is very likely to be the next Catalan President according to all the polls. The second smaller party is Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, a Christian-Democrat party, led by Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida. Duran is the CiU’s leader within the Spanish Parliament, where the CiU has 10 seats. Former Spanish Presidents Felipe González, José Maria Aznar and the current one, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, have needed the CiU’s support in the Spanish Parliament to pass important measures and even to keep in power.

The next Catalan elections will very likely result in the CiU receiving a number of seats just below the absolute majority. Polls predict that the CiU would pass from the current 48 seats to a number between 58 and 65. The absolute majority is 68.They will probably form the government alone, with punctual support from other parties. Once in the Catalan Government, they can become crucial for Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero in Madrid. CiU would return to the Catalan Government after 7 years leading the opposition. The coalition previously ruled Catalonia for 23 years, from 1980 to 2003, led by Jordi Pujol.

José Montilla, PSC leader and current Catalan President

José Montilla is the current President of the Catalan Government and the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). The PSC is federated to the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) of PM Zapatero. It runs with support from the PSOE (similar to the CSU and CDU in Bavaria and Germany). The PSC formed a 3 party coalition in December 2003 to run the Catalan Government. It has governed Catalonia with the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) and the Catalan Green Socialist Party (ICV-EUiA) for the last 7 years, during 2 terms. During the first term, the PSC was led by Pasqual Maragall, who was President of Catalonia from 2003 until 2006. Then, because of the process to approve the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, which was very controversial in Spain and a general problem concerning the public image and coordination of the Government, Pasqual Maragall was forced out by Zapatero and José Montilla. Montilla became PSC’s candidate for the 2006 elections. The CiU won these elections, but very far from the absolute majority. The PSC repeated the 3-party coalition with the ERC and ICV-EUiA and formed the current government. Because of governing action, internal disagreements within the Government and the trimming of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, the PSC is now in a weak position. Polls forecast that the party will lose between 2 to 9 seats, passing from the current 37 to 35 or even 28.

The other main candidates

Joan Puigcercós is the President of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party. The ERC defends a Catalan Independent State within the European Union. It believes that independence must be reached through a democratic and peaceful process. It proposes calling for an independence referendum in the next term. It has announced that it will not give their support to any party refusing this referendum. The PSC refuses it, the CiU is claiming for the right to self-determination but affirmed that calling for a referendum in the next term would be premature. Currently, the ERC is in the Government, but it is very likely that they will not be anymore. The PSC does not want to repeat the current 3-party coalition, and it is not likely that the ERC and CiU will form a governing coalition, although the idea should not be discarded. Polls predict the ERC to pass from its current 21 seats to a figure between 10 and 15. In the previous elections, the ERC candidate was Josep Lluís Carod Rovira, but he lost internal support and Joan Puigcercós became the new President of the party.

Alícia Sánchez-Camacho is the leader of the People’s Party of Catalonia (PPC). The PPC is the Catalan branch of the Spanish Nationalist and Conservative People’s Party (PP), led by Mariano Rajoy. Despite an anti-Catalan campaign run by the PP in the last years throughout the rest of Spain, Camacho leadership may have a reward. Polls indicate the PPC could pass from the current 14 seats up to 15, 16 or even 17. This would repeat the best results ever for the PP in Catalonia, equalling those of Alejo Vidal Quadras times, almost 20 years ago. The main axes of her speech are: immigration is out of control and the Spanish language is in danger in Catalonia.

Joan Herrera is Secretary General of the ICV-EUiA, Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds – Esquerra Unida i Alternativa, a coalition of Green and former Communist parties. They consider themselves Eco-Socialists. They also want Catalonia to be a state within a true federal Spain. They vindicate the governing action of the 3-party coalition. They will very likely be voted out of the Government. However, they are likely to maintain their current number of seats (12) or, losing 1 to 2 seats at most.

The last candidate for the current parties in the Parliament is Albert Rivera, from Ciutadans (C’s), the anti-Catalan Nationalism Party, which previously had no clear position between Left and Right-Wing. Nowadays, they say to be Liberal Centre Left-Wing. However, some of its stances are quite populist; they were in talks with Rosa Díez and her UPD party, which in the last European elections was making claims such as Spanish jobs for Spanish people. C’s will probably maintain its 3 seats or get 1 more.

The extra-parliamentary parties

Finally, there are 6 parties from the galaxy of extra-parliamentary parties that could enter into the Parliament. They answer to a general feeling that traditional politics are not effective enough. The extra-parliamentary parties with the possibility of getting into the Catalan Parliament are the following:

- Solidaritat Catalana, led by Joan Laporta, the former President of Barcelona’s football club, FC Barcelona. It is a Right-Wing Populist party, combined with Catalan separatism. It was created 4 months ago and it wants to declare independence unilaterally. Polls say they could be left out of the Parliament or get up to 4 seats. It represents a threat to the ERC (for the most pro-independence and non-leftist voters) and for the CiU (for the most pro-independence voters).

- Reagrupament, led by Joan Carretero, who used to be a leading personality of the ERC.  It was created almost 2 years ago. It is very similar to Laporta’s party, so similar they talked about running together. In the end, due to personal problems, they are running separately. Reagrupament will probably not be in the Parliament or have only 1 seat. It represents a threat to the ERC (for the most pro-independence and non-leftist voters) and the CiU (for the most pro-independence voters).

- Alternativa de Govern, chaired by Montserrat Nebreda. Nebreda used to be the number 2 within the PPC. She tried to chair the party but did not succeed and left the party. Alternativa de Govern has almost no recognition by citizens and it is almost impossible that it will enter into the Parliament. It represents a minor threat to the PPC (for the most liberal voters) and the CiU (for the most Right-Wing and less Catalan nationalist voters).

- Plataforma per Catalunya, a small party chaired by Josep Anglada. This party is not new but it is very marginal. It only has councilmen in 3 Town Halls across Catalonia (such as Vic o El Vendrell), in municipalities with a high proportion of immigrant population. It is a xenophobic and Populist party, whose speech only talks about limiting immigration and prioritising nationals. It has almost no chance of entering into the Parliament. It could represent a threat for the PPC, Solidaritat Catalana and Reagrupament.

- The Pirate Party has arrived to Catalonia inspired by the European equivalents. They fight digital copyrights. It is a movement against control on the Internet and, by extension, against political establishments. It could get some protest votes. However, it is not very known and chances to get into the Parliament are very scarce. It could represent a threat to the ICV-EUiA (for the most leftist and young voters).

- ‘Escons en Blanc’ (“None of the above” Seats) is a protest party whose only message is that if they get elected, they will not occupy the seats in the Parliament nor receive a salary. They claim to be the best way to make a use of the “none of the above” (NOTA) vote. In fact, polls predict that the NOTA vote will grow considerably. In this scenario, if citizens decide last minute that instead of voting with an empty envelope, they will give their vote to the party, they could be one of the election’s surprises. To get into the Parliament and keep their promise, they will affect the absolute majority, thus making the CiU closer to having it.

Low turnout

Polls predict that the turnout will be particularly low in these elections. CiU supporters are quite mobilised. However, many people who voted for the PSC, ERC or ICV-EUiA (the parties in the 3-party governing coalition) in the past elections are not so keen to vote in these elections, according to the polls. This demobilisation affects the PSC in particular. The ERC electorate could go to the CiU or the new independence parties. The ICV-EUiA electorate seems to be quite loyal and they will not lose too many votes.

The economic crisis, the corruption cases affecting the main 2 parties, the CiU and PSC, and the sentence and debate about the Catalan Statute of Autonomy have demobilised many people. Citizens face the coming elections with more sceptical views regarding politics. The gap between Catalan politicians and Catalan citizens is wider nowadays than 4 years ago, although 4 years ago it was already considerably wide.