Catalan separatist parties mull over next move as election vote delivers little change

Puigdemont speaking in Belgium after separatists repeated their overall majority.
Puigdemont speaking in Belgium after separatists repeated their overall majority. / EFE
  • Secessionist groups won a fresh majority in the 135-seat regional parliament but it still isn't clear how ousted president Carles Puigdemont could be reinstalled as president

Last week's election in Catalonia delivered little change to the status quo. Pro-independence parties secured a majority in the 135-seat regional chamber, although anti-independence Ciudadanos emerged as the biggest party, even if some way from taking control.

The election was ordered by central government after the last regional parliament illegally declared independence from Spain. Madrid had invoked Article 155 of the constitution to take back some direct control and call a regional election.

In the final result, votes cast for the parties against independence were narrowly ahead of the separatist parties, however as the distribution of seats favours more pro-independence areas, it was the latter that won the most, taking 70, two over the majority of 68 needed.

To the surprise of many who had been following opinion polls, the Junts per Catalunya candidacy of ousted regional president, Carles Puigdemont, won 34, more seats than its separatist rival, left-wing republican ERC (who won 32). Oriol Junquera's ERC had been expected to do the best of the two. The third secessionist party, anti-system CUP saw its number of seats reduced to four.

In terms of the parties campaigning against independence, centre-right Ciudadanos became the biggest party overall in Catalonia with 37 seats, helped by tactical voting and a big turnout in the more densely-populated coastal areas. However with the addition of the regional MPs of the other parties, there are not enough seats on paper for a pro-union coalition to govern.

Instead the same situation as early autumn remains, with the secessionists most likely to form the new regional government. Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, accepting the result, said that any regional government was acceptable as long as it stayed within the constitution.

This time round there are added complications for the separatist parties due to the ongoing legal action against those allegedly involved in the illegal independence referendum and parliamentary vote in October. Eight of their new MPs are either in jail or absent from Spain.

Carles Puigdemont of Junts per Catalunya is currently a fugitive in Belgium with four other of his ex-ministers. While Oriol Junqueras, leader of ERC, is in jail in Madrid while investigations continue, along with two other new MPs.

This week it wasn't clear if the detained MPs would be able to take part in a debate and vote for a new regional president. Neither was it clear who that regional president could be, as Puigdemont, former president and leader of the biggest separatist group would face arrest if he returns to Spain.

On Thursday legal experts dismissed the suggestion that Puigdemont could be invested as president remotely from Belgium.

Under its emergency powers under Article 155, it is now central government's responsibility to summon the new regional parliament to vote on the next Catalan government before 6 February.