Pro-independence parties exceed 50% of votes in Catalan Parliament election for first time ever

ERC leader says result gives Catalonia “immense strength to pursue amnesty and self-determination” · Doubts persist over what roadmap can agree independence parties on · Socialists retake lead in unionist camp, emerge as largest party

Aragonès (left) and Junqueras (right) celebrate ERC's result.
Aragonès (left) and Junqueras (right) celebrate ERC's result. Author: ERC
Parties calling for independence from Spain got yesterday a combined 51% of the votes in the Catalan Parliament election and secured an enlarged absolute majority of seats. The result opens the door for main independence parties ERC and Junts to rekindle an agreement to stay in power, although it is unclear what their roadmap will be.

Independence parties hailed yesterday’s results as “landmark” as they captured more than 50% of the votes in a Catalan Parliament election for the first time ever, resulting in 74 seats in the 135-strong assembly.

Centre-left Republican Party of Catalonia (ERC) emerged as the largest independence party, with 21,3% of the votes and 33 seats, slightly ahead of big-tent Junts (20% and 32 seats). Anti-capitalist CUP secured 6.7% of the ballots and 9 seats.

Other pro-independence minor parties —including PDeCAT, the most direct heirs to former ruling party CiU— got a further 3.1% of the votes, but no seats.

In 2017, Junts had obtained 34 seats, ERC 32, and CUP 4. This means the pro-independence majority has been enlarged by 4 seats.

Socialists take lead in unionist camp

The Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC) retook the lead in the unionist camp as they managed to receive 23% of the votes and 33 seats (up from 17 in 2017), in an unprecedented tie with ERC as the largest party in Parliament.

Second-placed among parties supporting Catalonia’s union with Spain was Vox, which for the first time got seats in the Catalan Parliament. With 7,7% of the votes, the far-right party —which seeks Madrid’s direct rule over Catalonia and an end to the system of autonomies in Spain— received 11 seats.

Left-wing En Comú Podem (ECP) retained all 8 seats they already had, with 6.9% of the votes. ECP support a constitutional reform which brings about the recognition of Catalonia as a nation and the establishment of a federal Spain with enlarged powers for its constituent members.

Centre-right Citizens’ Party (C’s), after having emerged in 2017 as the single largest party, lost 30 seats to retain a mere 6, with 5.6% of the votes. It is understood that most of their former voters chose this time instead PSC, Vox, or abstained.

Right-wing Popular Party (PP) lost one seat to retain a mere 3, with 3.8% of the ballots.

Turnout was at 53.5%, a dramatic fall of 25.5 percentage points from 2017.

ERC-Junts-CUP deal to do what?

As the results became clear, most analysts said a new ERC-Junts deal is the most plausible one. As the two parties do not have an absolute majority, they will need to seek an agreement with another party. After the 2017 election, CUP allowed the formation of a Junts-ERC government by abstaining at the investiture vote. The anti-capitalist party did not however join the government.

ERC candidate Pere Aragonès yesterday said his party had won the right to lead the next Catalan government, and argued that Catalonia now has “an immense strength to pursue amnesty and self-determination.” Aragonès was referring to the release of the Catalan political prisoners that were jailed over the holding of the 2017 independence referendum —including ERC’s president Oriol Junqueras— and again to the demand to Spanish president Pedro Sánchez to negotiate an agreed referendum on Catalonia’s independence from Spain.

The Spanish government has indicated once and again that it will not agree on an independence referendum. Still, Sánchez has said he is ready to reactivate a dialogue table between the Catalan and Spanish governments aimed at resolving the territorial crisis. The table met in February 2020 for the first time. After the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, it has not met again.

Junts and CUP are however sceptical about the fruits that the table could eventually bear. Thus, it cannot be ruled out that any deal among the three pro-independence parties could require a variation into ERC’s seemingly preferred approach to the issue —that of negotiation with the Spanish government. Still, Junts candidate Laura Borràs signalled after the vote that her party supports an “understanding” of pro-independence forces to form a new government.

Junts' candidate Laura Borràs speaks during vote count. / Image: Junts per Catalunya

In the end, these debates take place against the background of the independence camp’s perceived need to rethink its plans to reach the constitution of a Catalan republic, after it became clear in 2017 and 2018 that ERC and Junts were not ready to sustain a unilateral road that could eventually require the disobedience of Spanish authorities and clashes against them, not to say a struggle for control of government institutions and territory.

Complicated alternatives

If the three pro-independence parties could not agree in the formation of a new government, it is unclear what alternative options could be. PSC candidate and former Spanish health minister Salvador Illa yesterday said he will seek his election as Catalonia’s president at the investiture vote. He will not have enough support for that in the short term.

PSC candidate Salvador Illa in a campaign act. / Image: PSC

Illa could maybe take a greater chance in an ERC-Junts bitter rupture that could bring the centre-left pro-independence party to allow, by omission —an ERC-PSC has been ruled out as impossible by both parties—, the formation of a PSC-ECP minority government with support from other unionist parties. Such a scenario is not on the horizon by now, and many things would need to radically change for it to happen.

Maybe a more realistic scenario could be an election rerun. Still, ERC and Junts have incentives not to reach that point, as a part of their constituencies could react angrily if they perceive that both parties are guilty for having spoilt a pro-independence majority.