Stephen Burgen: Nationalist Catalan president likely to win power but not a mandate for breakaway

Artur Mas has won re-election
Artur Mas has won re-election
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With some 30 per cent of Catalan voters still telling pollsters they are undecided, it remains to be seen whether the incumbent nationalist president, Artur Mas, has pulled off the emphatic victory he was seeking or has shot himself spectacularly in the foot.

Polls show Mr Mas’ Convergencia i Unio party winning 62 seats, the same as they held when the election was called two months ago and six short of the absolute majority Mr Mas claimed he needed for the independence movement to have credibility in the eyes of Europe.

Mr Mas, right, himself says an absolute majority is probably out of reach and is calling instead for “an exceptional majority”.

The lack of a majority and the large number of undecided voters raises the spectre of coalition government. During his two years in government Mr Mas has relied on the votes of the right-wing Partido Popular to push through spending cuts. However, while CiU and PP are of one mind on fiscal matters, the PP is resolutely against Catalan independence. Mr Mas has publicly stated that he would not countenance a coalition with them in the next administration.

That leaves him with the prospect of joining forces with the rejuvenated Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left), rescued from the wilderness by the independence movement. Some polls even put Esquerra in second place, ahead of the Socialists.

Esquerra is and always has been pro-independence but its leader, Oriol Junqueras, says his party will vote against further public spending cuts. However, the first task facing the next Catalan government is how to save €1.6 billion (£1.3bn) to meet its deficit target, which Mr Mas plans to achieve with more cuts.

Mr Mas has run this as a single-issue, nationalist campaign but it has evolved into a tussle over the national question on the one hand and social issues on the other. The undecided, it appears, want to vote for both, that is: No to spending cuts and Yes to a referendum on independence. This is bad news for Mr Mas. Some 32 per cent say they are torn between CiU, which only offers the latter, and Esquerra which offers both, while 24 per cent can’t make up their minds between the Socialists – no cuts, no referendum – and the Greens, who oppose spending cuts and are agnostic on independence.

Meanwhile, the far-left, pro-independence Candidatura d’Unitiat Popular offers both, as well as a commitment to clean up Catalan politics and reopen corruption cases.