Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Election Campaign in Catalonia 2010

We now have exciting days ahead and I am not talking about el Clàssic, the Barça-Madrid match next Monday. Already on Sunday, November 28, there will be elections to the parliament of Catalonia and we are therefore at the peak of the election campaign.

The big question is not who will be the next President of the Generalitat – at this stage I do not think that anyone doubts that it will be Artur Mas. His CiU has been in opposition for nearly eight years, but is now leading by far. In some opion polls the party has even reached an absolute majority, but the most likely outcome is that Mas will form a minority government. It can still be very strong because it will be able to seek support from either of the parties ERC, PSC or PP, depending on the issue.

Yesterday (Sunday), TV3 arranged the big debate with all the party leaders. It was predicted that there would be a fight according to the principle "all-against-Artur Mas", but that was certainly not the case. Mas was allowed to present CiU's election program in a calm way and could then watch while the other participants debated their individual top concerns against each other. By all accounts, it is CiU which has managed to mobilize the majority of the one million Catalans who last summer protested against the changes which the Spanish Constitutional Court has ordered to the Catalan autonomy charter, Estatut. Some studies suggest that up to half of the party's voters eventually want to see an independent Catalonia. That question will not, however, be brought up during the coming term of office. Partly for practical reasons - with Catalonia's poor economy and high unemployment rate, there are more pressing priorities. Partly for strategic reasons – CiU knows that Catalans are divided on sovereignty.

Instead, CiU demands for Catalonia to have its own tax collection system (concert econònic). Artur Mas thinks that if the Spanish constitution can allow for the Basque Country and Navarre to recover taxes locally, and only submit agreed amounts to the Government of Spain, then Catalonia must also be able to have the same right.

Catalonia's second largest party, the Socialists PSC, and what is probably the third biggest one, PP, claim that CiU's proposal will create division. And if you are looking to Spain as a whole they are right - this issue will not be popular in Madrid. However, if you - like Artur Mas - put the interests of Catalonia first, the result is quite different - the vast majority of Catalans want for their autonomous region to control the tax revenue which it generates.

The party which is now most clearly opening the door for CiU is ERC. On the campaign posters, their leader Joan Puigcercós announces that he will call a referendum on independence, but in yesterday's debate, he indicated that he can accept CiU's financially oriented proposal as a first step. Duirng the last two legislative periods, ERC has formed part of the Catalan Tripartit government, but its former constituents have not appreciated this cooperation with PSC. And since full sovereingty has not come to dominate this election campaign, by approaching CiU, ERC can at the same time distance itself from PSC, and become the future government's first-choice support party.

PSC, which has been the main party of the Tripartit governments, is fighting an uphill battle to avoid a catastrophic result. A large part of its voters are Spanish-minded and have not appreciated the long relationship with ERC. To me, incumbent president, José Montilla, almost seems to have given up. He has already announced that this is his last campaign for the presidency and during the debate yesterday, there were long moments when he disappeared completely. Interestingly, he delivered his sharpest contribution when he - a non-native speaker of Catalan - in Catalan defended Catalonia's positive discrimination of its own language and he did so against the leaders of PP and Ciudadanos, who during that specific section chose to speak Spanish.

PP's Alicia Sánchez Camacho made a good debate. True, ICV-EUiA made a serious effort to brand her as xenophobic, but she managed to escape the hook with arguments that she is only opposed to illegal immigration. However, I think that those are wrong who believe that the next Catalan Government can be formed by a right-wing CiU with the support of conservative PP. That Estatut is not becoming Spanish law in the form which Catalonia had approved in a referendum, is largely the work of Partido Popular and its attacks against the Catalan language policy in school stresses that the two parties are drifting apart, although they share their view on the virtues of private enterprise.

Albert Rivera from the small Spanish-minded party Ciudadanos should yesterday have had a chance to steal votes from PP, because he is good at defending his program. But for some reason he got much too excited and, by repeatedly interrupting the other party leaders, he managed to anger all of them - plus me as an audience.

The ecologically minded group, ICV-EUiA, finally, is in this election campaign the only one of the currently governing parties which defends that Catalonia's "progressive forces" should once again come together in a Tripartit. Although I would not vote for Joan Herrera, I am always impressed with his his commitment and almost feel a bit sorry for him when his fellow government partners are doing their best to underline that the team spirit has disappeared. In return, this makes the profile of ICV-EUiA clearer than ever - when CiU takes over power, Herrera's party will be the one to hold the longest distance to the new government.

Tomorrow Tuesday, there might be a flash TV debate between the two main presidential candidates, Artur Mas and José Montilla - on the Socialists' initiative. Unless Montilla does a lot better than yesterday, at least I will ask myself what was the point. It remains to be seen whether he has a trump card in hand.

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