THE independence question looks likely to continue to dominate the agenda in Catalonia after political parties launched their campaigns ahead of elections later this month.
Six weeks after Artur Mas, the Catalan president, called elections for 25 November, the ruling CiU party and the socialists both officially launched their campaigns on Thursday night.
Mas’s ruling CiU party has adopted the slogan “the people’s will”. Launching the electoral battle that could see his party returned with a majority, he said Spain’s Partido Popular government will do all in its power to prevent that happening.
He asked voters who don’t traditionally support CiU to vote for them in the Catalonian interest. “If we don’t get an absolute majority we won’t be taken seriously,” he said.
Pere Navarro, the socialist party leader, described the independence campaign as a “gigantic smokescreen”.
“We don’t know if CiU’s hands are clean, but they will certainly have a free hand to go on cutting services if they win,” he said. The “clean hands” comment is a reference to a series of corruption scandals linked to CiU.
In July, the party was ordered to lodge €3.2 million (£2.6m) in court while a judge investigates allegations of illegal party funding. The case is still open. The Partido Popular (PP) leader Alicia Sánchez Camacho presented her candidacy as leader of “the only party that has no problem declaring that Catalonia is part of Spain”. She added: “This is the most important campaign of our lives. The future of our children and grandchildren is at stake.”
The PP may benefit from tactical voting and push the socialists into third place. People of Spanish origin, who are lukewarm at best about independence, tend not to vote in the Catalan elections, seeing them as “not about us”, while broadly supporting the socialists in the general elections. But with the socialists in disarray, and with the stakes much higher than usual, many may decide to cast their vote for the PP as a one-off anti-independence gesture.
For all that Mas insists that Madrid fears him winning an absolute majority, it may suit the PP if a sweeping CiU win leaves the socialists even more demoralised. The socialist triumphs in Catalonia and the Basque Country in the 2008 general election were key to José Luis Zapatero winning a second term. The nationalists rolled over the socialists in the Basque elections last month. Were the same to happen in Catalonia, the PP will find it much easier to hang on to government come the next Spanish general election.
Another party that might do well is the Greens, led by Joan Herrera, which is the only one whose campaign is focused on social issues. “The country must not hand an absolute majority to a party that doesn’t care about our rights,” Herrera said.
Mas says that after the elections he will ask parliament to approve a declaration of “the right to decide”. Given that Catalonia will be under the microscope, he says, the aim of the declaration would be to “win the respect of European institutions and the international community and ideally of the Spanish state.”