Artur Mas scrambles to build a coalition for Catalonia after setback at polls

Artur Mas: Left to reflect on losing seats in Sunday's election to separatist parties
Artur Mas: Left to reflect on losing seats in Sunday's election to separatist parties
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THE leader of Catalonia’s Convergencia i Unio (CiU) party, which finished with the most seats in the regional election on Sunday, reached out to potential coalition partners yesterday in his first major speech since the vote.

Artur Mas’s CiU fell short of the majority he wanted, though separatist parties won most seats overall.

Differences over austerity measures and when a vote on secession from Spain should be held have meant no deal has yet emerged and talks will be held this weekend.

Yesterday, Mr Mas made overtures to the second place Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) and the third place Socialist party. He called for “mutual confidence and parliamentary stability to guarantee a strong serious and stable government” led by him.

He admitted the CiU had not achieved the hoped for results but argued two things had clearly emerged. One was that a government could implement austerity polices and still be re-elected if “from the start it does so honestly and sensitively” and that “there is across-the-board support for the right to decide our future”.

He added that without a deal “we won’t have either strong or good government and Catalonia will not get over the crisis, nor consolidate the welfare state or the referendum.”

Mr Mas has dented his separatist credentials by making a referendum dependent on Esquerra backing austerity cuts. Talks between the two parties are due to take place this weekend. Esquerra has already said that it will not join a coalition but will ensure stability. Given that its leader, Oriol Junqueras, has said his party will refuse to back public spending cuts and Mr Mas is committed to cutting a further €4 billion (£3.2bn) from the Catalan budget, it is difficult to see how this stability would come about. Furthermore, Mr Junqueras has said he wants a referendum to be held by next September.

The Socialists have little to gain by making a pact with the CiU. They, too, are opposed to spending cuts and would lose much of what remains of their already dented credibility if they were to associate themselves with further attacks on public services. They have declined to join a coalition government.

Mr Mas’ campaign backfired when his attempt to rally the surge in pro-independence sentiment to his banner left him with 12 seats less than when he started out.

By making independence the issue he scared off both his party’s pro- and anti- supporters. Mistrustful of his tepid nationalism, the pro- camp voted for the unequivocally separatist Esquerra while the anti- voters fled to the federalist Ciutadans (Citizens’) party. With only 50 of the 135 available seats, he has to find a partner or else stumble on as a minority government.

Before the election, Mr Mas had relied on the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) to push through the cuts. However, he claimed during the campaign that they were behind dirty tricks designed to link him to a corruption scandal and said he would never work with them again – a claim he has made before and then reversed.

Mr Mas, a fiscal rightwinger, has zealously set about cutting the Catalan deficit in line with demands from Madrid and Europe. If he can’t find someone to back him, then Spain’s austerity edifice is in danger of collapse.