Artur Mas, as he analysed the results of the election. Lluis Gene
The hopes of Artur Mas and his team were dashed at the regional elections in Cataluña on Sunday. His party, CiU (Convergencia i Unión), suffered a loss of 12 seats compared with the elections in 2010 and lost more than eight per cent of its votes. CiU members may have been bitterly disappointed, but the result was good news for Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who had been extremely concerned about the prospect of Artur Mas demanding a referendum on independence from Spain. Such a separation could cause a constitutional crisis in the country and the PP government is determined to do everything possible to prevent it.
How the parties fared
It was not all doom and gloom once the results were in, however and there were some very cheerful faces. The socialists could barely hide their satisfaction because their own reverse was lower than expected, eight MPs and just over three per cent of the votes.
At the conservative Partido Popular they were also more than satisfied because their great aim had been to prevent CiU achieving an absolute majority. They also managed to obtain one more MP, although they gained barely one extra per cent of the votes. But undoubtedly the great winner of the day was Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or ERC, a party which is strongly committed to independence and has not only doubled its presence in Parliament but also doubled its number of votes.
The second winner in these Catalan elections was Ciutadans, the Citizens Party, which tripled its number of MPs and obtained two and a half times more votes than previously. Iniciativa per Cataluña also did better, gaining three MPs, and the radical Candidatura d'Unitat Popular erupted into Parliament with three seats.
Disappointment for Mas
Before the elections the major question was whether Artur Mas would achieve an absolute majority, but nothing could have been farther from reality. He was left with 50 MPs, a long way from his target of 68. Even worse, this was 12 fewer than he achieved at the last elections just two years ago and he also lost more than eight per cent of the votes.
The President of the Generalitat made a very bad decision when he decided to call the elections less than half way through the legislature. He was repeating Jacques Chirac's disaster of 1997, when despite being the President of France with an absolute majority he called the election early and lost to socialist Lionel Jospin. Artur Mas may not have lost, but it is as if he had. His whole agenda for separation has gone down the drain. Many people suspected that he was not truly committed to independence and that this was nothing more than a cover, a smokescreen to divert attention away from his drastic policies of cuts in spending, and this, to some extent, was also reflected by the votes.
CiU does not now have the parliamentary force to challenge the Spanish goverment and demand a referendum on independence, let alone the ability to promote a unilateral declaration of independence. The only possibility of progress along that path would be an alliance with Esquerra. The two parties together would have an absolute majority with 71 of the 135 seats, but such a pact would be a bad solution for CiU's interests because it would tie the hands of Mas and his economic policy of severe austerity.
Original and photocopy
The republicans are now waiting to see who knocks at their door. Their result was similar to their best year, 2003, when they gained 23 seats in the Parliament of Catalonia. Esquerra's long push for independence paid off and they captured a good part of the separation vote which distrusted CiU and preferred the original independents to the nationalist photocopy. ERC is not ruling out an agreement with Artur Mas; its candidate, Oriol Junqueras, seemed to be understanding towards Mas during the election campaign when there were accusations about the Catalan president having a hidden bank account in Switzerland and questions about the source of the money it contained.
Without a doubt Esquerra, or ERC, capitalised on the independence wave but it was also demonstrated that this wave was smaller than had been believed. In the elections of two years ago, the nationalist and independent forces won 76 seats and this time they have 74. The autonomists of PSC, PP and Ciutadan's obtained 49 MPs in 2010 and have remained in a similar position this time with 48.
The socialists, for their part, heaved a sigh of relief when they only lost eight seats. This result was a triumph for the PSC and the PSOE, especially in a campaign which was as polarised as this one. Although the socialists lost their position as the second political force in terms of the number of MPs, they still only have one less than Esquerra.
The conservatives were also happy because Mas did not achieve an absolute majority, they gained one parliamentary seat and earned more votes even if they did not achieve their aim of knocking the socialist PSC off its position as the main national force in the region of Catalonia.
Ciutadans, the Citizens Party, captured a good part of the voters who abandoned the socialists, tripled its presence at the Catalan parliament, increased its percentage of the vote from three to seven per cent and can no longer be considered a marginal force.
Iniciativa per Catalunya was also ready to pop the champagne corks when the results came in. It benefited from the deterioration of the PSC, from which it received the support of voters on the far left, and won three seats in the Catalan Parliament.
The newcomers in this autonomous legislative chamber will be the three MPs from CUT, a party which has a political reference outside Cataluña in the left-wing Abertzale Vasca.