Tough talks loom for Catalonia

2015-09-28 15:51
"Estelada" or pro independence flags are waved in front of the President of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia Artur Mas, left and Oriol Junquieras, president of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party in front of supporters in Barcelona, Spain.

"Estelada" or pro independence flags are waved in front of the President of Democratic Convergence of Catalonia Artur Mas, left and Oriol Junquieras, president of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party in front of supporters in Barcelona, Spain.

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Barcelona - Secessionist parties that want Catalonia to break away from Spain but agree on little else were facing tough political negotiations aimed at forming a regional coalition government to push their independence agenda, even though they got less than half the votes.

The "Together for Yes" pro-independence alliance won 62 seats in the 135-member parliament, six short of a majority, forcing it to seek support from an anti-establishment separatist party that detests Artur Mas, Catalonia's regional leader who called the vote. No meetings were set on Monday.

The Popular Unity Candidacy party (CUP), which won 10 seats, has lambasted Mas for invoking unpopular austerity measures and said Monday it would not support someone to lead Catalonia's regional government that was linked to "cutbacks and corruption."

While CUP leader David Fernandez says his party will help the "Together for Yes" side, analysts predicted difficult negotiations.

CUP is "in a tough spot: supporting Mas would antagonize its voter base, but forcing him to step down could paralyze the independence process," said Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consulting group.

Mas on Monday brushed off suggestions that his leadership was in question and insisted that under party agreements he has to be the presidential candidate.

He insisted the vote gave them a mandate to proceed with the independence drive and that they would work with CUP "to carry out the road map" and to put in place the structures in time for "the legal disconnection" with Spain.

Work for an independent state

Prior to the elections, Mas and his group had pledged to work for an independent state with 18 months, including making a unilateral declaration of independence.

But CUP's main candidate, Antonio Banos, said on Monday that such a declaration could not now be justified as it would have needed the backing of more than half the votes.

Under the 41-year-old Fernandez, CUP has succeeded regionally in tapping into the same anger at austerity measures exploited by far-left European parties like Syriza in Greece.

Catalans, he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week, need to claim their sovereignty as a nation from a Spanish state he sees as having 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."

Anti-secession parties played up the fact that the pro-independence parties won just 48 percent of the popular vote.

That happened because of a quirk in Spanish voting law gives votes from rural areas more value in selecting lawmaker seats than those from urban areas. And in Catalonia, there is more support for secession in less-populated areas.

The Spanish state will not split

In its first official reaction to the vote, the Spanish government reiterated that the Spanish state would not be split and that there would be no independence.

"Those in favour of rupture never had the backing of the law and as of yesterday neither do they have the backing of the majority of Catalan society," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The threat of Catalonia breaking away from Spain has been a constant source of dispute between Mas and Rajoy's government, which rejects Catalan independence as unconstitutional.

Rajoy must call general election by the year's end with polls suggesting his party will lose its majority in the national parliament. His Popular Party took a beating in the Catalan elections, winning just 11 seats, eight fewer than in the previous legislature.

Opposition parties favour changing the Constitution to better cater for Catalonia.

Mas is regional president since 2010 and head of the Convergence party that has played a key role in Catalan politics for decades. Formerly opposed to independence, he has championed the cause over the past five years after the Madrid government snubbed his bid for more regional financial powers.

The newly elected deputies are to take their seats by October 27, with a new regional Catalonian government expected by early November.

Read more on:    catalonia  |  spain  |  secession

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