Spain takes a giant step towards a full-blown constitutional crisis as Catalans overwhelmingly elect candidates promising a break-up vote.
Catalonia has delivered a sweeping mandate to political parties pledging to hold a referendum on independence in elections that place the northern Spanish region on a collision course with Madrid.
In a vote billed as “the most decisive elections in the history of Catalonia” by Artur Mas, the region’s president, pro-referendum parties won 87 of the Catalan parliament’s 135 seats.
Following weeks of intense debate about Catalonia’s future relationship with Spain, turnout was 69.5 per cent, the highest for a Catalan regional election in nearly 30 years.
The vote comes amid pressure from various regions around Europe for more independence, including proposals for a referendum on the issue in Scotland in 2014.
Spain’s central government has said any move to push ahead with a referendum on independence for Catalonia, which has an economy the size of Portugal’s and makes up about a fifth of Spanish output, would be illegal and against the Spanish constitution.
Catalonia has built up a debt pile of €42bn, the largest of all of Spain’s 17 regions, and is currently locked out of international capital markets. Earlier this year the region was forced to request an emergency €5bn credit line from Spain’s central government to avoid defaulting on payments.
The ruling (Center-Right) Convergència i Unió party which favors a referendum actually lost 12 seats in the election, from 62 to 50. However, it lost those seats to more radical pro-independence groups.
Artur Mas, leader of Convergència promised a referendum but will have to align with even more radical groups to produce one according to CNN.
Artur Mas, president of the region’s parliament, promised a referendum on independence for one of Spain’s most important regions if he won re-election.
But after the election, Mas has a more difficult task because his center-right Convergence and Union coalition lost 12 of its 62 seats, a strong setback for a party that was hoping to gain a simple majority in the 135-seat legislative body.
The Catalan Republican Left party was the big winner in the elections, winning 21 seats, according to the Catalonia elections web site, which reported 98% of the votes had been counted.
The Catalan Republican Left party also backs independence, and the two parties could form a majority in parliament on the independence issue.
They, however, differ on most other issues, especially economic policy.
Voters in Catalonia, the most powerful economically of Spain’s 17 regions, heeded the call that these would be historic elections, even if independence wasn’t on the ballot Sunday. They voted during a deep economic crisis in the eurozone countries, especially in Spain and in Catalonia. Voter turnout was the highest in 24 years for Catalan elections, officials said.
The Spanish government in Madrid vows to block any self-determination referendum, arguing that the constitution does not permit a region alone to decide its independence.
Last September 11, an estimated 1.5 million people — 20% of Catalonia’s population — filled the streets of Barcelona, the Catalan capital and Spain’s second-largest city, demanding independence.
A survey earlier this month by the Catalan government’s polling center showed 57% of Catalans would vote for independence, a 6% increase from last June and a 14% increase from a year and a half ago.
Judging from the election, I suspect the percentage who would vote for independence is much higher.
A showdown with Madrid looms.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock