November 28th, 2011 will see elections take place here for the Catalan parliament and presidency of the region. Although the official campaign only started at midnight on Friday 12th November, it feels as though the parties have been on the trail for many, many months. With 135 seats (escons) in the Catalan parliament, an absolute majority would mean a party winning 68 seats or more, a difficult proposition in a place with six parties currently represented in the parliament and two new ones that each have the potential to win one or more seats.
The current standings are: CiU – 48; PSC – 37; ERC – 21; PP – 14; ICV –12; Ciutadans – 3; the government of the past four years has been a coalition of the PSC, ERC and ICV. A poll carried out by the Spanish Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas published on November 12th predicted the following outcome: CiU – 59; PSC – 33; ERC – 15/16; PP – 14; ICV – 11; Ciutadans – 3. If this was the result of the election, CiU could have the same number of seats as the combined members of the current coalition government (depending on how many seats ERC wins).
The candidates for the two main parties, CiU and PSC, are the same as in the last elections, held on November 1st, 2006.
1. Artur Mas – could it be third time lucky for Artur Mas? He has stood for the federation party of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya and Unió Democratica de Catalunya (known collectively as Convergència i Unió, or CiU) in the past two Generalitat elections and, despite winning the largest number of seats up for grabs in the Catalan parliament both times, he lacked an absolute majority, opening the way for his left-wing opponents (PSC, ERC and ICV) to form successive coalition governments. The polls are all saying, and have been for some time, that CiU will yet again get the most seats but is unlikely to get an absolute majority. Depending how close Mas gets his party to the 68 seats required for a majority, he may seek to govern with a minority, picking and choosing support from other parties as and when needed; or look to create a coalition either with the left-wing, independence-supporting ERC or the right-wing, conservative PP, which are likely to be the third and fourth parties when the votes are counted. They are at opposite ends of the political spectrum and each are spending a good part of their campaign criticising the possibility of Mas siding with the other; the recent CIS poll found a notable preference for a CiU-ERC partnership (21 percent) rather than one with the PP (13 percent). CiU is a nationalist Catalan party but hasn’t committed itself to any decisive moves towards independence (such as a referendum or unilateral declaration) if it wins the election.
2. José Montilla – the serious, socially-awkward current president of Catalunya and leader of the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC) has declared that there will be no repeat of the current government coalition after November 28th. Not that he is necessarily convinced of defeat, even though all the polls suggest that the Socialists are likely to lose seats; rather, he is putting a brave face on a difficult situation and, like Mas, hoping for an outright majority. Despite Montilla’s determination not to repeat the existing left-wing coalition (with ERC and ICV), which has been an uneasy grouping with disagreements on various issues including the hot topic of independence, it looks next to impossible that the PSC will get 68 seats or more, and so it may be, that on the evening of the elections, Montilla will reconsider his promise to voters that the coalition won’t return. The PSC is at risk from its close links with the Spanish Socialist party that holds power in Madrid and is the focus of discontent for its approach to the nation’s financial problems, as well as the way that it has dealt with various Catalan issues such as the decision regarding the new version of the Catalan Statute in the central constitutional court. In the November 12th CIS poll, the majority of those asked said that if a coalition was necessary, the one they would most prefer would be one between PSC and CiU.
The other three main parties are each being represented by a different candidate than in 2006.
3. Joan Puigcercós – Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) has seen some significant internal wranglings over the past four years, with the result that the current vice-president of Catalunya and one-time leader of ERC, Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira has been edged out of his position of power in the party by Joan Puigcercós, now running for the presidency. ERC is renowned for its desire for independence and, some would say, has let its presence in the past two governing coalitions go to its head, contributing to a gradual weakening of its position as the third party in Catalunya. Following an excellent showing in the 2003 elections, when it shot up from 12 seats to 23, ERC has seen support slowly trickling away; polls predict that this time it will go down from 21 seats to just 15 or 16.
4. Alicia Sánchez-Camacho – a single mother who had her child by IVF, Sánchez-Camacho is, perhaps surprisingly, representing the notoriously right-wing and conservative Partido Popular (PP). Since taking over the leadership of the party in July 2008, Sánchez-Camacho has become most well-known for controversy regarding immigration in Catalunya, particularly the publication of a PP leaflet in Barcelona’s neighbour Badalona, which linked Romanian residents with crime in the city. While it is extremely unlikely that she will make history as Catalunya’s first female president (despite its name, the PP has historically been very unpopular in Catalunya, although it has maintained a core support group), Sánchez-Camacho could find herself in the position of negotiating with CiU to help the latter into power, in a relationship previously seen in the later stages of the presidency of the grand-daddy of Catalan politics, Jordi Pujol.
5. Joan Herrero – often the butt of satirists jokes for his rosy cheeks and propensity to cycle everywhere (well, he is in the green party), Herrero is the presidential candidate of Iniciativa de Catalunya Verds (ICV), an amalgamation of former communists, left-wingers and environmentalists that was formerly headed up by outgoing Interior Minister, Joan Saura. The latter’s record in the most recent coalition will mainly be remembered for some clumsy handling of the Catalan police force by a man who has more than a little sympathy for squatters and dope smokers. While Herrero has no realistic chance of becoming president, at this point, it also seems unlikely that ICV will find itself a coalition partner in the Catalan government this time.
And the rest.
6.Albert Rivera – Ciutadans (C’s) is a Catalan party that tends towards Spanish nationalism. Its main trump card is to question and challenge moves to strengthen the profile and position of the Catalan language in the region, arguing that to do so is to oppress Castilian and impose Catalan in a place where there are two official languages. The last Generalitat elections were the first at which Ciutadans took part and they won three seats in the parliament, including for Albert Rivera (who posed nude for his presidential campaign in 2006, a stunt that he has declined to repeat this year, although the party’s adverts do feature Rivera surrounded by naked ‘supporters’), the young lawyer who heads the group. Polls predict that Ciutadans could well maintain its stake in the Generalitat this time around.
7. Joan Carretero – a former member of ERC, Carretero struck out on his own last year to form the association (note, not an official political party) Reagrupament, because of his frustration with Esquerra’s approach to winning full independence for Catalunya through a unilateral declaration of such by the Catalan parliament. To Carretero’s mind, and those of his supporters, this is the only subject that counts in the region today and is hoping to win a presence in the parliament if only to force the issue on to the agenda as much as possible in the coming legislature.
8. Joan Laporta – The former president of FC Barcelona and newest kid on the Catalunya political landscape, Laporta recently made international headlines by his Berlusconi-esque recruitment of a porn star to his cause. Despite the media games, however, the founder of Solidaritat Catalana (SI) does seem serious about his wish to see Catalunya become independent, making various (ultimately unsuccessful) attempts at reaching agreement with Reagrupament (see above) regarding a common bid for power in the parliament. Laporta is also interested in seeing a unilateral declaration of independence in Catalunya in the near future, a move that would require support from a majority of those sitting in parliament.