Po­lit­i­cal winds blow Cata­lan’s bid for state­hood off course


Lead­ers seek­ing in­de­pen­dence for Spain’s Cat­alo­nia re­gion had the wind in their sails four months ago, but the change sweep­ing Span­ish pol­i­tics has blown them off course.

Politi­cians warn that surg­ing left­wing party Pode­mos is a “Tro­jan horse” dis­rupt­ing the in­de­pen­dence drive, while cen­ter-right Ci­u­dadanos vows to sink the se­ces­sion­ists.

Many in the rich industrial re­gion, in­clud­ing its con­ser­va­tive leader Ar­tur Mas, want to cre­ate a new state in Europe in de­fi­ance of the Span­ish gov­ern­ment.

Mas got a boost when nearly two mil­lion Cata­lans backed in­de­pen­dence in a sym­bolic poll in Novem­ber.

Banned by Span­ish courts from hold­ing a full ref­er­en­dum, Mas later called a re­gional elec­tion for next Septem­ber to serve as a plebiscite on in­de­pen­dence.

But na­tional pol­i­tics have got in his way, with the rise of the two up­start po­lit­i­cal par­ties, on top of Mas’s dis­agree­ments with fel­low pro-in­de­pen­dence groups.

“In the com­ing months we will see the col­lapse of the se­ces­sion­ist plan,” said Ma­tias Alonso, the deputy leader of Ci­u­dadanos.

“In the elec­tions in Septem­ber we will see a sub­stan­tial change.”

In­de­pen­dence ‘road map’

Mas and the Repub­li­can Left party with whom he shares power in the re­gional par­lia­ment have agreed a “road map” for in­de­pen­dence by 2017 which they vow to im­ple­ment if they re­tain a ma­jor­ity in Septem­ber’s vote.

The plan threat­ens to hurt Mas, how­ever, as it was re­jected by par­ties in­clud­ing the UCD, which forms part of his CiU group­ing.

Over­all, the pro-in­de­pen­dence ma­jor­ity looks in dan­ger.

For the first time since June 2011, the Cata­lan re­gional gov­ern­ment’s own opin­ion sur­vey in Fe­bru­ary in­di­cated a ma­jor­ity of Cata­lans say­ing “No” to in­de­pen­dence — 48 per­cent against 44 per­cent say­ing “Yes.”

The poll in­di­cated that due to the rise of Pode­mos and Ci­u­dadanos, the two Cata­lan gov­ern­ing par­ties be­tween them could fall short of an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity for the first time since 1980.

Polls show Pode­mos and Ci­u­dadanos are drawing votes away from Spain’s two big old par­ties, the gov­ern­ing con­ser­va­tive Popular Party and the main op­po­si­tion So­cial­ists.

Jordi Tu­rull, spokesman for Mas’s CiU coali­tion in the Cata­lan par­lia­ment, branded Pode­mos a “Tro­jan horse” against the in­de­pen­dence move­ment.

“Pode­mos could side­track the de­bate,” he told AFP. “In that sense it is more in line with the in­ter­ests of the Span­ish state than with the de­mands of Cat­alo­nia.”

Mas told the Wall Street Jour­nal in a re­cent in­ter­view: “For Cat­alo­nia, the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem isn’t the left-right axis, but rather the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cat­alo­nia and the Span­ish state.”

‘No’ Camp Mo­bi­lized

Cat­alo­nia is home to 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple and ac­counts for a fifth of Spain’s econ­omy.

Proud of their dis­tinct lan­guage and cul­ture, many Cata­lans say they get a raw deal from the way their taxes are re­dis­tributed to the rest of Spain.

The pow­er­ful pro-in­de­pen­dence civil groups be­hind a se­ries of mass demon­stra­tions in re­cent years have been quiet since the Novem­ber poll, but are now gear­ing up again to mo­bi­lize their sup­port­ers.

Ahead of the May lo­cal coun­cil elec­tions, they are plan­ning a rally on April 24 in Barcelona’s Sant Jordi Palace, where the 15,000 seats have al­ready been booked out.

The anti-in­de­pen­dence group So­ciedad Civil Cata­lana is also can­vass­ing.

“If the pro-in­de­pen­dence bub­ble bursts but the anti-se­ces­sion­ists do not re­spond by go­ing to vote, things will be the same as ever,” said its vice-pres­i­dent Su­sana Bel­tran.

Se­ces­sion­ists can see that “the ‘no’ camp is mo­bi­lized like never be­fore,” said Muriel Casals, leader of the pro-in­de­pen­dence group Om­nium Cul­tural.

“There will start to be a de­bate now, and that is wel­come. There will be se­ri­ous and stim­u­lat­ing dis­cus­sions.”

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