Cata­lan sep­a­ratists claim win but face a rocky road


Cata­lan sep­a­ratists said in­de­pen­dence was within their reach be­fore Sun­day’s re­gional elec­tion. But fol­low­ing their nar­row vic­tory, a rocky road lies ahead for those want­ing to break away from Spain.

To push on with a de­clared “roadmap” to in­de­pen­dence, sep­a­ratist groups must now over­come wide dif­fer­ences and the op­po­si­tion of a large chunk of the elec­torate.

In such cir­cum­stances, the plan to press for in­de­pen­dence by 2017 is of “du­bi­ous prac­ti­cal­ity,” po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Josep Ra­moneda wrote.

Sun­day’s elec­tion was his­toric in that it yielded the first ever re­gional par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity for pro-in­de­pen­dence par­ties in the rich north­east­ern re­gion.

But un­der the elec­toral sys­tem the two groups fell short of a pop­u­lar ma­jor­ity with just un­der 48 per­cent of the vote be­tween them.

The lack of a clean ma­jor­ity of votes is a pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment for skep­tics.

“You can­not de­clare an in­de­pen­dent state when half the pop­u­la­tion is loyal to the neigh­bor­ing state,” said Fer­nando Valle­spin, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Madrid Re­gional Univer­sity.

“In­de­pen­dence looks im­pos­si­ble to me, be­cause there is not a ma­jor­ity of so­ci­ety that is will­ing to take that step.”

The sep­a­ratists nev­er­the­less de­clared they had enough sup­port to jus­tify mov­ing to­wards in­de­pen­dence.

“There are not as many of us as we would have liked, but I trust that we will end up gain­ing the ex­tra sup­port we are lack­ing,” na­tion­al­ist re­gional pres­i­dent Ar­tur Mas said on Wed­nes­day.

Un­der a “roadmap” pub­lished be­fore the elec­tion, Mas’s al­liance plans to move to in­de­pen­dence within 18 months.

The re­gional par­lia­ment would de­clare the start of the se­ces­sion process and lead­ers would pro­pose ne­go­ti­a­tions with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions.

They would then set about pre­par­ing Catalonia’s own state in­sti­tu­tions.

In 2017 they would pro­claim inde- pen­dence and call elec­tions for a new par­lia­ment which would draw up a con­sti­tu­tion.

First of all how­ever, the groups must choose a re­gional pres­i­dent to lead the process.

The first round of vot­ing for that is due by Nov. 9 at the latest and Mas does not have the sup­port he needs to be re­elected.

His To­gether For Yes al­liance gained 62 par­lia­men­tary seats and the rad­i­cal left-wing se­ces­sion­ist group CUP won 10, giv­ing them an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity if they join forces.

To­gether For Yes, group­ing cen­ter­right, cen­ter-left and in­de­pen­dent left­wing par­ties and civil groups, is a volatile mix even with­out CUP.

What’s more, CUP re­fuses to ac­cept Mas as leader since he is widely de­spised for pre­sid­ing over aus­ter­ity cuts in the eco­nomic cri­sis.

“The in­de­pen­dence move­ment is very broad,” Ra­moneda told AFP.

“Sooner or later, the dif­fer­ences will start to show. Eigh­teen months could be enough to de­stroy this gov­ern­ment.”

CUP has stated two firm con­di­tions for its sup­port: an emer­gency so­cial aid pro­gram for the poor, and a con­sen­sus leader other than Mas.

Mas pleaded for an ac­cord. “We can­not have not come this far to ruin it all now,” he said. “We can­not fail.”

The roadmap also raises the pos­si­bil­ity of a full ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence — a move fiercely re­sisted so far by Spain’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

If ri­val par­ties force out Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy in a gen­eral elec­tion in De­cem­ber, the Cata­lans could have a new gov­ern­ment in Madrid to ne­go­ti­ate with.

Valle­spin said no Span­ish gov­ern­ment was likely to agree to in­de­pen­dence, which is pro­hib­ited by the con­sti­tu­tion.

But Catalonia could end up se­cur­ing a sym­bolic recog­ni­tion of its na­tion­hood and greater fis­cal pow­ers — both de­mands that Madrid has re­jected in the past.

“It is a com­pli­cated is­sue,” said Valle­spin. “But it will end in ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

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