Far-right making inroads in Catalonia on promise to fight independence

By Walt Finch

THE far-right is poised to take seats in the Catalan parliament for the first time in an election too unpredictable to call, an expert has said.

Far-right party Vox, traditionally known as a marginal party, is nonetheless surging in the polls. They are projected to win 10 out of 135 seats, a higher total than the traditional Spanish right-wing party Partido Popular.

Catalonia represents a fractured and complex political landscape that is divided not just between traditional left and right, but also torn on the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and positions on Catalonian independence.

Polling so far (Credit: Wikipedia)

The polls show a tie between three front runners; the Catalan Republican Left and centre-right Together for Catalonia, both pro-independence, and the Catalan Socialists (PSC), who are anti-independence.

“A few weeks ago the socialists were polling very badly, but that changed when they brought the Spanish government health minister in as a candidate for the Catalan election,” Toni Rodon, from the political science department of Pompeu Fabra university told Redaction Politics

“And since then they’ve been performing very well in the polls, to the point that they might even win the election.”

But the real story of the coming elections is the advance of Vox on a platform of strong anti-independence in a region that is one of the most left-wing societies in Europe, according to Professor Rodon.

Support for Catalan independence from Spain has recently been running at between 40 and 50 per cent, resulting in a polarised society similar to what is seen in the US, Rodon said. 

“We’re not talking about polarisation in the sense that we’re killing each other in the streets, fortunately, but it can be very intense,” he added.

“There is an important portion of the Spanish electorate that for cultural reasons has never accepted the idea of giving more powers to the Catalan region.

“Every time a Spanish party has tried to decentralize a little bit more power to the regions, they are immediately attacked by the right wing parties in Spain.”

If the issue of Catalan independence is the longstanding backdrop to Catalan politics, the handling of the pandemic is the feature of this particular election, Rodon explained.

The arrival of Spanish health minister Salvador Illa to lead the Catalan Socialists transformed their electoral polling and has given them a real chance of winning an outright majority, in spite of the general perception that the government in Madrid handled the coronavirus outbreak poorly.

Rodon added: “Will the electorate penalise him for what he did in the beginning of the pandemic, when he had the power of managing everything, or will the electorate think that he did a good job? The polls are not clear right now. It’s a mystery.”

To form a government, a party has to achieve a majority of 68 seats out of 135 in the Catalan Parliament and if no party manages that then a coalition government is likely. In the previous 2017 election, the centre-left Catalan Republican Left and centre-right Together for Catalonia ended up ruling together, despite neither party winning the most votes.

Turnout is expected to be much lower in this election – from 79 per cent in 2017 to an estimated 60 per cent this year, but even then it is unknown which party this will end up benefiting, Rodon said.

But uncertainty and unpredictability are the defining factors in such a complex election, he concluded. “Don’t worry, we Catalans also get lost.” 

Featured Image: Pixabay

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