Catalan elections: Far-right enters the parliament and separatists gain support

Pere Aragonès and Oriol Junqueras, from Esquerra Republicana

The biggest fear over the past years regarding extremism in politics, has finally come alive in another part of Europe: the far-right has entered the Catalan Parliament with a bigger support than the polls were anticipating in these elections. In a moment where the world’s attention is completely focused on a planetary pandemic, with almost no time for digesting more news topics, the political issues that were left behind for over a year come up again in Catalonia.

The victory of the socialist previous Health Minister Salvador Illa, who recently left his position in the Spanish Congress to present himself as the new Prime Minister of Catalonia, is bitter-sweet. They are unlikely to gather enough support to become the next president.

And most important: the independentist movement has boosted its majority in the Parliament, which leads to a fragmented Parliament with clear differences over the territory. Let’s go over these conclusions:

Extreme-right “VOX”, the 4th political force

After becoming the third-largest party in Spain after the 2019 general elections in the country, VOX came to Catalonia with the motto of “closing the Parliament”. Something quite ironic, considering they now got 11 deputies in the chamber they supposedly want to shut down.

Ignacio Garriga from VOX / Credits: Vox

According to them, the Parliament of Catalonia is in the hands of the Catalan nationalists, who are wasting their money on opening up international institutions to spread the message of the separatist movement. Therefore, they presented themselves as the toughest alternative to beat their majority and centralize the power. 

When the party ran for the Spanish general elections for the first time  in 2019, they presented a document under the name of  “100 measures for a bright Spain”. And the first one was already a statement on why they were born. “Elimination of the region of Catalonia, indisputable defeat of the coup Government and assumption of civil and criminal responsibility.”

VOX believes in a unified Spain, with no regions, a unique police force and with the outlawing of parties that support autonomic or separatist ideologies. Together with this exclusionary view, they publicly say they want to kick out the illegal immigrants living in Spain and close down “fundamentalist mosques”. 

Their agenda has been repeatedly catalogized as populist. They throw the message that Catalonia is not a safe place, and the real problem of the Catalans is to fight the delinquency of illegal immigrants. More precisely, the leading candidate Ignacio Garriga said on several televised debates that “the increasing Islamisation of the territory is worrying”.

Despite their extreme message, they have managed to beat both Partido Popular and Ciudadanos, the other two center-right parties, and become the fourth largest force in the Catalan Parliament.

The independentist movement strengthens in Catalonia

The Catalan elections are quite interesting considering there is not only the spectrum of “left-right”, but also the nationalist one. The separatist path that has been evolving ever since Catalonia was defeated in 1714 by the Bourbon Monarchy, and now seems to stabilize with these new results.

Leading candidate, Pere Aragonès and head of the party, Oriol Junqueras / Credits: Esquerra Republicana

The independentist forces climb up from 70 seats to 74, with a special increase of “CUP”, the radical left party that rose from 5 to 9 deputies. With this outcome, the separatist ideology revalidates the majority that they already had in the Government, opening a new scenario that presumably will make Pere Aragonès, the leader of Esquerra Republicana, the new president of Catalonia.

“We, the pro-independence parties have a majority, we have reached more than 50% of the popular vote. The Catalan people have spoken, the time has come to negotiate a referendum of self-determination. Please get involved.” These were the words of Aragonès after the results, calling for a European alignment regarding the Catalan issue.

The separatist path has had its ups and downs over the last years, with a big climax on the 1st of October of 2017, when the President of Catalonia back then, Carles Puigdemont, faced the State and organized a Referendum of independence, something the Spanish Constitution does not allow. However, the Catalan Parliament passed a regional law and put the ballot boxes.

It was then when Spain showed its ugliest and less democratic face, sending the police officers to remove the boxes, using its violence and leaving up to 1000 injured citizens. 

Now, Carles Puigdemont, the leading candidate of “Junts per Catalunya” is exiled in Brussels, sitting in the European Parliament trying to internationalize the conflict, and another bunch of ministers are in prison, blamed for sedition. And they are the main focus now.

First step: Amnesty for the prisoners

If the three independentist forces are able to build a new Government, their agenda has a clear priority: free the prisoners that are in jail since 2017, who, according to their argument, are enjailed because of political motives.

Campaign “Us volem a casa” (We want you back home) claiming for the freedom of the Catalan prisoners / Credits: Omnium Cultural

This would mean opening a debate in the Spanish Congress, and voting over forgiving their crimes. This seems unlikely as, so far, no member of the progressist Government of Partido Socialista and Podemos, have publicly spoken about it.

This opens the door to more probable second scenario, the indult. This is removing the main penalties of the prisoners, and letting them free, despite still maintaining their criminal records.

Is a referendum of self-determination possible now?

With the separatist movement stronger than ever in the Parliament, and a left-wing Government ruling Spain, the scenario looks favorable for a dialogue over the Catalan conflict. But still, the desire to solve the problem with a referendum of self-determination should imply the reform of the Spanish Constitution, which does not contemplate a voting system for splitting the country. And with the right-wing seats getting more extreme every time both in Spain and Catalonia, the project of Catalonia as an independent State faces major opponents that aim for the opposite: the centralization of power in Madrid.

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