BLOG – “In Catalonia, the priority is to put out the fire: the time to talk about divorce will come”

Vincent Kessler / Reuters

A protester flies the Catalan separatist flag during a rally outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 2, 2019 (Photo Vincent Kessler / Reuters)

MADRID – A building catches fire and it is there, in the middle of the flames and after several decades of married life, that the couple from the fifth floor decides that the hour of divorce has come. Catalonia is currently experiencing an equally surreal situation. The pandemic is raging – over half a million cases since last March and around 10,000 deaths in this region of 7.5 million people – and now may seem rather inappropriate to talk about independence. The Spaniards consider Sunday’s elections as irrelevant, and above all, superfluous.

This view is partly shared by the Catalans themselves, who question whether it is worth putting their health at risk to exercise their right to vote. One thing is certain: the ballot on February 14 is the most watered down of the three elections that have been held in Catalonia in the past six years. If for the previous ones, the only subject was that of the independence of Catalonia, the stakes are today multiple. Independence remains discussed, but in a completely different form and context.

Of all the parties vying for the presidency of Catalonia, only one, Junts per Catalunya, the party of former president in exile Carles Puigdemont, continues to support independence at all costs. The others defend a position which ranges from “yes, but under conditions” for Esquerra Republicana to a categorical no for the national parties. However, political analysts all agree on one thing: whatever the outcome of the election, the independence trend will certainly no longer be that of two years ago. These elections are in fact held prematurely due to incompatibilities between the separatist parties that form the government.

The pandemic, the weariness of defending the same idea over and over again for years (with hardly any progress) and above all, the failure of the separatist attempt of 2017, which ended in imprisonment or the flight of political leaders, has cooled the independence tendencies. But, of course, the coronavirus pandemic is the most important factor: considering becoming an independent country as Catalan citizens die every day is inappropriate at best.

Even if the management of the pandemic is not the main point of discussion, it will inevitably mark the elections. The socialist candidate, Salvador Illa, has in fact left his post as Minister of Health to try to win the presidency of Catalonia. Although he has been fiercely criticized for failing to prevent Spain from becoming one of the countries with the most cases and deaths, his work has also been greatly appreciated. According to polls, he would be tipped to win the elections, tied with the ERC and Junts separatists. “I have the feeling of being the president that Catalonia needs to move forward”, Illa said in an interview with HuffPost Spain.

The pandemic has mainly affected the practical aspect of these elections. Authorities had to confirm that they would be maintained on the date set, despite recriminations from most political parties, who consider it inappropriate to call for a vote when Catalonia is one of the regions of Spain that the strictest limitations in terms of mobility.

The main problem for these elections is to find enough election officials : among the citizens called upon to chair or take part in the organization of these elections, many invoke the risk of contagion to retract and not have to go to the polling stations – an obligation to which they are legally bound.

It remains to be seen whether or not the risk of contagion will influence participation, an additional problem in view of the large number of undecided (around 30% of voters). Voting by post increased by 350% compared to previous elections. One thing everyone is sure, however: the far right of Vox will enter the Catalan Parliament and could even overtake the historic right of the Popular Party.

The Catalans no longer vote for their independence, but want to choose a government that will allow them to get through the worst health crisis of the century. They want a president who will be able to make decisions beyond a separatism supported by less than half of the inhabitants, and who has paralyzed the region for years.

All the polls suggest that alliances between two or more parties will be necessary to ensure the formation of a government. A pattern that is nothing new for Catalonia, used to being governed by a minimum of two parties.

The difference this time around is that purely pro-independence parties are unlikely to win enough votes to govern and, above all, that the far right will change anything in the daily life of a group. region already ablaze for a long time. The priority? To extinguish the fire. The time to talk about divorce will come.

See also on The HuffPost: In Catalonia, “Hortense” makes the sky seem like the end of the world

Source: Le Huffington Post by

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