Toni Strubell, Núria Bassa – Will Sánchez’s investiture depend on Puigdemont?

The man the EU and Spanish government want to jail now holds Spain’s political future in his hands.

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Llegeix en català aqui


The July 23rd elections have once again landed Spain in a quagmire as regards the investiture of a new Spanish president. Electoral predictions once again proved to be wrong and the former progressive government of Social Democrats (PSOE) and Podemos (Sumar), against all odds, managed to hold their own against the announced right/far-right PP-VOX majority. Though the PP won overall (PP137-PSOE121), the combined votes of the remaining parties will almost certainly prevent conservative Feijóo from becoming president first round. But it is still in the air whether this will result in the investiture of Sánchez or a fresh election. The decision once again lies fully in the hands of the Catalan MPs though in a manner quite different to former occasions.

Incredibly enough, the whole question would now appear to depend on exiled president Carles Puigdemont’s Junts per Catalunya party, rather than on Oriol Junqueras’ Esquerra Republicana. The fact that Spain’s future depends on Catalan separatists is just the first of a series of paradoxes that stud this new cliff-hanger. Another is that the Catalans’ almost unique opportunity to pull their political weight comes at a time that the kingmaker Catalan pro-independence parties -that so much awe and gnashing of teeth cause in the unionist camp- have actually weakened their position in the Madrid Cortes. Indeed, the three pro-indy parties have dropped from 23 to 14 seats, though they continue to hold the key to a parliamentary majority.

This drop in votes and the shift in their distribution can be put down to several factors that nonetheless thwart the temptation to think that suport for independence might be dwindling. The first is that the elections were conducted in the presence of a powerful abstentionist campaign on the part of pro-independence groups and activists. (There was even a campaign to vote with independence Referendum ballot papers). But over and above the difficulties in quantifying the exact effect of these campaigns, the most effective vote-puller was doubtlessly that second nature of so many Catalans to respond to any call to help halt fascism in Spain. Hence the public announcement made by one former indy MP that he would vote socialist. To bear out this theory, may I mention professor Paul Preston who once deemed Catalonia to be one of the staunchest anti-fascist territories in Europe, a fact born out by the fact that only 2 of over 900 local councils in Catalonia are in the hands of the Spanish right, not to mention those of fascist VOX who have none at all. Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge -in bitterness or not-that it is the votes of Catalans and Basques that regularly prevent Spain’s Cortes becoming a staunch fascist-friendly haven.

So what caused this shift in vote from independentist parties to socialist PSOE? Firstly, a widespread disillusionment with the failure of the former to meet their electoral promises which were none other than to remain loyal to the October 2017 Referendum result, have repression curbed, and work towards the consolidation of the Catalan Republic. There has been practically nothing accomplished along these lines, a factor further tainted by the multiple pacts made by ERC and Junts with the PSOE to control institutions throughout the country, a step abhored by indy voters who remember the socialists participation in taking repressive measures against the Catalans. The party that has most dearly paid the bill for sidestepping these promises is Esquerra Republicana. Having obtained pardons for their leaders (Junts’ leaders were in on the deal too), they have been progressively perceived as pitprops for the socialists on many fronts while obtaining pitifully little in return other than token socialist support for the very feeble one-party ERC government (33 of 135 seats) they agonizingly sustain. Although they also lost one MP (CUP lost both theirs), Junts per Catalunya was the one indy party to come near to holding its ground. And Junts’ comparative resilience is what makes the mathematics of the 23F investiture more dramatic than before when those supporting Sánchez (Podemos, PNV, Bildu, BNG…) showed every sign of falling over backwards to do so.

Though the proverbial chickens should not be counted before the eggs are hatched, Junts would certainly seem to be a grittier negotiator for Sánchez’s current investiture than ERC. But it would be unwise to say that there are no risks for Junts too. If they don’t hold their ground (they now demand a new Referendum and amnesty for all independentists prosecuted), they too may be more harshly submitted to the kind of electoral boycott the three indy parties suffered last 23J. It certainly won’t be easy for Junts, a party with little media coverage and now exposed to the massive pressure exerted by the joint fury of Spain’s powerful unionist right and the hypnotic wooing of Spain’s PSOE and Sumar progressives. Will Junts forget that in four years they have failed to satisfy Catalan demands on any score other than the pardons granted to just 9 indy leaders, a sweet and sour “concession” with a treacherous small print that has in so many ways paralysed the Catalan movement. The next few weeks will reveal if the Catalans will be able to pull off their demands or if fresh elections are to be called and the progressive majority is to be put to the test of holding out against fascism? Whatever the outturn, the shift of Carles Puigdemont from media ostracism to political centre-stage is a factor that cannot be overlooked.

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