Catalonian elections: Madrid is bad, austerity is worse (+video)
Voters in Catalonia dealt a blow to the Spanish region's ruling party, rejecting its pro-austerity economic policies despite its popular efforts to seek Catalonian independence from Madrid.
If there was one lesson from Sunday's elections in the Spanish region of Catalonia, it was this: Residents of Catalonia may want to be rid of Madrid's central government, but they want to be rid of austerity even more.Skip to next paragraph
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Catalonia's ruling, pro-austerity party suffered a stinging rebuke in regional elections Sunday, as voter discontent with its economic policies appears to have tripped up its push toward Catalonian independence. And while a historic voter turnout – 70 percent, the highest in decades – gave a 64 percent majority of the regional parliament's seats to parties in favor of an independence referendum, it also exposed a Catalonia fractured along left versus right lines, and denied any party the kind of majority political mandate needed to drive Spain’s richest region on a path toward independence.
The governing center-right CiU party, led by Catalonian President Artur Mas and a driving force behind the region's independence push, won only 50 seats in the 135-member parliament – a defeat considering the party not only fell far short of the absolute majority it was seeking, but in fact lost 12 seats from 2010.
Many of CiU’s voters threw their support to the election’s biggest victor, ERC – Catalonia’s traditional left, pro-independence but anti-austerity party, which more than doubled its number of seats to 21. The regional representations of Spain’s biggest formations, the Socialists and Popular parties, won 20 and 19 seats respectively, although the Socialists Party of Catalonia shed eight seats in parliament. Smaller parties won the remaining seats.
What next for referendum?
CiU admitted its go-it-alone project failed and called for ERC’s support to call for a referendum. “One thing is to have the right to decide, and another is” an independent state, Mr. Mas said following the elections. “With these results, we will have to continue working.”
ERC, though, had already said their price for support will be high: Mas would have to reverse many of his austerity policies, and he will have to commit himself to a multiparty path to independence, any of which would be hard to do in this juncture.
Exit polls suggested that while the majority of Catalonians appear to support independence, an even bigger majority rejects Mas’s economic and social policies, which have severely punished the region's prized health and educational systems.
Voters appeared to back the Spanish central government’s thesis that Mas moved up elections two months ago as a political ploy to use the passionate nationalism issue to divert attention off the unpopular austerity measures of Catalonia’s government – which are in addition to the central government’s own policies.
Indeed, most analysts in Spain and in Europe gave very little chances of any formal secession process prospering, one that would start with holding a referendum. In Spain, many Basques have also long sought an independent state, but regional leaders have stopped short of challenging the central government as Mas has.