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Catalan separatists lose majority as Spanish socialists win regional elections

BARCELONA, Spain – Six years after plunging Spain into its worst political crisis in decades, Catalonia’s separatist parties are in danger of losing their power in the northeastern region after the pro-union Socialist Party scored a historic result in the elections. Sunday elections.

The four pro-independence parties, led by former regional president Carles Puigdemont’s Together party, would win a total of 61 seats, according to a nearly complete vote count. This figure is below the key figure of 68 seats needed for a majority in the chamber.

The socialists led by former Health Minister Salvador Illa enjoyed their best result in a Catalan election, winning 42 seats, compared to 33 in 2021, when they barely obtained the most votes but were unable to form a government. This was the first time that the Socialists led a Catalan election in both votes and seats won.

“Catalonia has decided to open a new era,” Illa told his excited supporters at his party headquarters. “Catalan voters have decided that the Socialist Party will lead this new era and my intention is to become the next president of Catalonia.”

Illa led Spain’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic before Sánchez sent him back to Barcelona to lead his party. The calm tone of Illa, 58, and his focus on social issues convinced many voters that it was time for change after years of separatists pushing to break centuries-old ties with the rest of Spain.

Sánchez congratulated Illa on platform X for the “historic result.”

The socialists will need to win the support of other parties to put Illa in charge. Reaching agreements in the coming days, perhaps weeks, will be key to forming a government. Neither a hung parliament nor new elections are out of the question.

But there is a way for Illa to reach the goal of 68 seats. The Socialists already form a coalition government in Madrid with the Sumar party, which now has six seats in the Catalan parliament. But the difficult thing will be to court a left-wing party from the separatist camp.

Regardless of those negotiations, Illa’s rise should bode well for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the Socialists ahead of next month’s European Parliament elections.

The separatists have occupied the Barcelona regional government since 2012 and have won majorities in four consecutive regional elections. But polls and a national election in July showed that support for secession has waned since Puigdemont led an illegal (and futile) separatist bid in 2017 that led to hundreds of companies and Catalonia’s main banks leaving the region.

“The candidacy that I led had a good result, we are the only pro-independence force that increases in votes and seats, and we assume the responsibility that this entails,” said Puigdemont. “But that is not enough to compensate for the losses of the other separatist parties.”

A voter holds his puppy as he votes for Catalonia's regional elections in La Roca del Vallès, north of Barcelona, ​​on Sunday.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

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AP

A voter holds his puppy as he votes for Catalonia’s regional elections in La Roca del Vallès, north of Barcelona, ​​on Sunday.

Sánchez’s Socialists have since invested significant political capital in reducing tensions in Catalonia, including pardoning high-profile jailed separatists and approving an amnesty for Puigdemont and hundreds of others.

The socialist victory “is due to many factors that will have to be analyzed, but one of those factors was the policies and leadership of the Government of Spain and Pedro Sánchez,” said Illa.

Puigdemont’s Together party regained its leadership in the separatist camp with 35 seats, compared to 32 three years ago. He fled Spain after the 2017 secession attempt and has run his campaign from southern France on the promise that he will return home when lawmakers meet to elect a new regional president in the coming weeks.

Puigdemont’s escape from Spain became a legend among his followers and a huge source of embarrassment for the Spanish authorities. He recently denied during the campaign that he had hidden in the trunk of a car to avoid detection while crossing the border during a legal crackdown that landed several of his colleagues in prison until Sánchez’s government pardoned them.

Now, the only way Puigdemont could keep the separatists in government would depend on the remote possibility of a deal with Sánchez to guarantee the separatists’ support for his national government in Madrid in exchange for Illa returning the favor to the separatists in Barcelona.

The Republican Left of Catalonia, of the current regional president Pere Aragonès, plummeted from 33 to 20 seats. But the left-wing separatist party, which has governed in the minority during a record drought, could be key to Illa’s hopes, although that would require him to break with the pro-secession bloc.

The regional president of Catalonia and independence candidate of ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) makes a statement following the announcement of the final results of the elections to the regional parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona on Sunday.

Joan Mateu Parra/AP

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AP

The regional president of Catalonia and independence candidate of ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) makes a statement following the announcement of the final results of the elections to the regional parliament of Catalonia in Barcelona on Sunday.

The Popular Party, which is the largest party in Spain’s national parliament, where it leads the opposition, increased from three to 15 seats.

Spain’s far-right ultranationalist party Vox kept its 11 seats, while at the other end of the spectrum, the far-left, pro-secession Copa won four, down from nine.

An upstart pro-secessionist far-right party called the Catalan Alliance, which criticizes unauthorized immigration as well as the Spanish state, will enter the chamber for the first time with two seats.

“We have seen that Catalonia is not immune to the far-right reactionary wave sweeping Europe,” said Aragonés, the outgoing regional president.

The devastating drought, not independence, is currently the main concern of Catalans, according to the most recent survey carried out by Catalonia’s public opinion office.

The opinion bureau said that 50% of Catalans are against independence, while 42% are in favor, meaning support has fallen to 2012 levels. When Puigdemont left in 2017, the 49% were in favor of independence and 43% were against it.

More than 3.1 million people voted, with a participation of 57%. Potentially thousands of voters had trouble getting to their polling stations when Catalonia’s commuter rail service had to close several train lines after what officials said was the theft of copper cables from a rail facility near Barcelona.

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