Radical party set to be the kingmaker in Catalonia

A woman attaches a pro independence flag to her balcony in Barcelona. Picture: AP
A woman attaches a pro independence flag to her balcony in Barcelona. Picture: AP
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A RADICAL left party has made a startling journey from colourful oddity to potential kingmaker in Catalonia’s independence drive.

The Popular Unity Candidacy joins a line of far-left movements seizing the political momentum in Europe, from Greece’s ruling Syriza party and Spain’s own far-left Podemos movement to the shock emergence last week of socialist Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

As in the other cases, painful austerity policies have given wings to the CUP – and it finds itself possibly holding the key to the aspirations of Catalan separatists determined to sever centuries-old ties with Spain. Catalans vote tomorrow in regional parliamentary elections that the breakaway camp hopes will give them a mandate to put their region on a path toward independence – a goal the Madrid central government says would be illegal. Polls show the race is tight and that the large “Together for Yes” block formed by pro-independence parties from the rest of political spectrum will need support from the smaller CUP to secure a 68-seat majority in Catalonia’s 135-seat parliament.

Without the majority, secessionists concede, the effort to break away from Spain will be set back for years. That gives CUP potentially strong leverage to dictate the terms of its support, and impose some of its hard-left agenda on business-friendly Catalonia.

CUP is present only in northeastern Catalonia and is led by the outspoken David Fernandez, who sports T-shirts with radical slogans while debating in the ornate chambers of Catalonia’s parliament.

Under Mr Fernandez, 41, the party has succeeded regionally in tapping into the same anger at Europe’s austerity measures that has vitalised far-left European parties like Syriza in Greece that eat into traditional support for social democrats. Polls show CUP set to win as many as ten parliamentary seats, up from the three it currently holds.

Catalans, he said, need to claim their sovereignty as a nation from a Spanish state he insists has little respect for Catalonia and is an enthusiastic participant in a global capitalist economy he labels as “a war machine that robs, kills and lies”.

Movements that inspire Fernandez include Syriza, Ireland’s Sinn Fein, Spain’s Basque Country separatists and the Zapata Army of National Liberation active in Mexico’s Chiapas region in the 1990s.

Mr Fernandez said CUP owes most of its identity to Catalonia’s own history of workers and leftist movements, including 1930s radicals from pre-dictatorship Catalonia – when anarchists, communists and militant workers unions were among those who fought the 1936-39 war against Francisco Franco’s fascist forces.

Mr Fernandez and CUP’s radical rhetoric have struck a note with pro-independence Catalans who are angry about the languishing economy and believe Catalonia does not get back what it pays in taxes to Madrid.