Catalans took another step towards secession with the election of a pro-separatist majority in parliament. But President Mas, the main figurehead of the independence movement, saw his party fail to win a majority, and must now govern by coalition.
Pro-independence parties emerged as the clear winners of the elections, and now control 60 percent of the Catalan Parliament. But Catalan President Artur Mas, the leading figure behind a pro-secession push in the region, will now be forced to create a coalition government to remain in power/
The president’s Convergence and Union party (CiU) lost 12 seats, but still remains the largest power bloc in parliament, winning 50 seats out of 135.
In a televised address to supporters, Mas acknowledged that his party could no longer rule alone, but said that those who “think the referendum [on secession] plan has been aborted” would be disappointed.
Mas called the early election after failing to convince Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to ease Catalonia’s federal tax burden, and after a huge pro-independence rally in Barcelona on September 11.
“Mas managed to turn separatism into a burning issue, but then ended up being overtaken by more radical parties in this debate and now finds himself in a much harder position to govern Catalonia in a time of crisis,” Ferran Pedret Santos told the New York Times.
Mas will now likely push forward with a promised referendum on independence from Spain, which he and his supporters see as a way to drag Catalonia out of a worsening financial crisis.
But to proceed with the referendum, the Catalan president will now have to cooperate with a patchwork of smaller pro-independence parties, such as the Republican Left or the ERC.
The Separatist Catalan Republican Left has become the region’s main opposition party, with 21 seats, while the Catalan People's Party (PPC) is in fourth-largest party with 19 seats.
The Socialist Party is no longer the second-biggest party, winning only 20 of its original 28 seats. Two other, smaller separatist parties took a combined total of 16 seats.
One of the obstacles pro-secession activists may face is that Prime Minister Rajoy can use the Spanish constitution to block the independence referendum, as the country’s governing document prohibits any kind of regional referendum without prior approval from the central government.
The Spanish government argues that the secession of Catalonia – considered one of Spain’s richest and most stable regions – would be disastrous for both Spain and the region itself.
Catalonia pays Madrid around 16 billion euro a year more in taxes than it gets back from the central government. The region currently owes around 40 billion euro in debt, which has forced regional authorities to introduce spending cuts to healthcare and education.
Voter turnout was very high, reaching 68 percent – 10 percent higher than during the previous election.
Besides the region’s distinct local traditions, culture and language, Catalan’s drive for independence also stems from their strong economic performance, Anna Arque of the European Partnership for Independence told RT.
“Catalonia is a rich country,” she said. “We are not an artificial country. We have 600,000 companies. Our products, we export our 55 products to the world. We are a strong economy.”
Arque expressed optimism that Madrid would not be able to stop Catalan secession, but cautioned that independence would not mean withdrawal from the EU.
“Catalans are European citizens, and there is not such a precedent that we would be out of the European Union, 7.5 million of people suddenly – that would be more difficult actually to manage, with all that is necessary to be out,” Arque said.
“We don’t believe that we’re going to be out of the EU, like Scotland is not going to be outside the European Union,” he added. “Just because we’re exercising universal rights of self-determination – we’re talking about democracy here.”