Financial Times

December 28, 2015 4:21 pm

Far left tie leaves Catalan president’s future hanging by thread

Tobias Buck in Madrid

President of Catalonia Artur Mas gestures prior to a meeting with Spain's King at the Zarzuela palace in El Pardo, a ward of Madrid on July 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOUPIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images©AFP

Artur Mas, Catalan president

The political future of Catalan president Artur Mas was hanging by a thread on Monday, after a ballot at an extraordinary meeting of his prospective far-left allies produced a perfect tie — with 1,515 delegates voting to back Mr Mas for another term and 1,515 voting against him.

If elected, Mr Mas has promised to preside over a single-issue government focused exclusively on leading Catalonia to independence from Spain.

Both parties support secession from Spain, but are deeply divided on economic, social and diplomatic issues.But his party, the Junts pel Si movement, needs the support of the radical anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) to get him approved by the regional parliament in Barcelona.

After three months of wrangling, a draft accord was finally on the table — and put to a vote by the CUP party base on Sunday.

To the astonishment of observers and party leaders alike, the meeting produced an exact split.

CUP leaders will meet again next Saturday in an attempt to break the deadlock, further prolonging the political uncertainty hanging over the prosperous region — and its president.

If there is no agreement to back Mr Mas, Catalonia would have to hold elections in March. It would be the third early election in the region in four years.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Mas tried to reassure voters that despite the current uncertainty, “the country still functions and the government still functions”.

Junts pel Si and the CUP emerged from a regional ballot in September with a solid majority of seats in parliament — a result they hailed at the time as a popular mandate to break with Spain.

Failure to convert this majority into a pro-independence government would be a severe blow to the secessionist movement — suggesting that it is too divided to make genuine progress towards a new state.

“It would be a big missed opportunity,” said Lluis Orriols, a professor of political science at Madrid’s Carlos III University

Prof Orriols said, however, that an accord between Junts pel Si and the CUP was still possible, and that the two groups might be able to put aside their ideological differences temporarily.

“This legislature would be very short and very much focused on the one theme on which Junts pel Si and the CUP are united — independence,” he said.

The political uncertainty in Catalonia was mirrored on Monday at national level, as efforts continued in Madrid to overcome the political stalemate created by Spain’s December 20 general election.

Voters chose to make the centre-right Popular party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy the biggest bloc in parliament once again — but left it 53 seats short of an absolute majority on the 350-seat chamber.

Mr Rajoy has since pleaded for the support of the PP’s historic rival, the centre-left Socialists, and of the centrist Ciudadanos party, which entered parliament for the first time.

The Socialists (PSOE), however, have made clear repeatedly they have no desire to throw in their lot with the PP and Mr Rajoy — while Ciudadanos has signalled they would at most contemplate abstaining in any vote to re-elect the prime minister.

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the PSOE, reiterated his stance at a meeting of party leaders on Monday, saying he would stick to his commitment to achieve a “change towards the left” in Spain.

But Mr Sánchez also appeared to rule out a pact with the anti-austerity Podemos movement, citing its support for an independence referendum in Catalonia. “We will not have a dialogue about the territorial integrity of Spain,” he said.

On Monday, Mr Rajoy held meetings with the leaders of Podemos and Ciudadanos at the prime ministerial compound outside Madrid.

Neither appeared to bring the prime minister any closer to obtaining a majority in parliament, though a statement issued by his office afterwards made clear his position once again.

“Mariano Rajoy expressed his conviction that the election results signal that according to the democratic mandate it should be he who leads the next Spanish government,” it said.