THE people of Catalonia have delivered a pro-independence majority in the Catalan parliament after Spain’s disastrous gamble backfired.
With 95.64 per cent of the votes counted, the pro-independence bloc – Junts per Catalunya, led by ousted president Carles Puigdemont, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, and the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular – were set to secure 70 seats and a majority of two over their rivals.
The historic result was delivered despite several major political leaders being either in exile or in jail.
An aide of Puigdemont, who has been forced to remain in Brussels, sent a message to journalists shortly after the results came in. It said: “As you see, we are the comeback kids.”
The anti-independence party Cuitadans (Cs) were set to be the largest group in the parliament, but their path to the majority needed to form a government looked impossible. Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular failed dismally to attract support after the Spanish Prime Minister applied direct rule from Spain.
The pro-independence parties narrowly failed to deliver an overall majority in the popular vote, falling just short of 50 per cent.
A record turnout was recorded as 83.82 per cent of the 5.3 million eligible voters at the time we went to print. The result smashed the
well-publicised notion that there was a “silent majority” of Catalans who were ready to speak up to reject independence. Instead, the people delivered, again, a majority of parliamentarians in favour of an independent Catalan republic.
The Catalunya en Comú party, who were projected to win eight seats, are neutral on the constitutional question, would not vote for a unionist coalition and would possibly abstain if a pro-independence coalition was put forward. Catalunya en Comú are in favour of self-determination for Catalonia but not independence.
Long queues were seen outside many of the near 2700 polling stations from when they opened at 8am local time, with a turnout of 34.5 per cent recorded by midday. By 6pm voter turnout was up on the previous regional vote in 2015.
The Catalan parliament was dissolved by the government in Madrid following an independence referendum on October 1, with Spanish authorities deeming the poll illegal. The result of that referendum showed overwhelming support of 92 per cent in favour of Catalonia leaving Spain, with regional lawmakers making a unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.
The Madrid government responded by firing the regional government and dissolving the Catalan parliament. The courts then ordered the arrest of the former Catalan leaders.
Fresh parliamentary elections were then called for yesterday, with many seeing it as a de facto referendum on independence.
Campaigning in the weeks building up to the election had little to do with regional policy and focused mainly on the recent push for independence that brought Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
It had been deemed an election too close to call definitively when the last of The National’s world exclusive polls was published on Wednesday night, but the prediction of a narrow pro-indy majority proved to be accurate.
A lot was made about undecided voters holding significant sway in the election, with others, reminiscent of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, pointing to a potential “silent majority” ready to come out in favour of keeping Catalonia in Spain.
In a marked contrast to the previous polling day on October 1, when the Generalitat de Catalunya – the region’s parliament – held an independence referendum, voting passed peacefully. That day in early October was marred by shocking images of police brutality, but the voters The National interviewed yesterday spoke of their joy at being able to vote in the absence of such violence.
“Long lines to vote. Glad to be able to do it without police threat,” said Mario Gili Carulla.
“Strange feeling today, we don’t have to protect ballot boxes and we are not beaten,” added Helen.
Another Catalan resident, Eugenia, echoed those sentiments while calling for help from around the continent.
“I voted this morning around 9:15 without fear that the police would hit me,” she said. “I voted for our legitimate president Carles Puigdemont. I hope that he can return to Catalonia and we can be a new country in the EU as soon as possible. Spain is an anti-democratic and authoritarian country. We need the help of the rest of Europe.”
Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan President, has remained in exile in Belgium since the end of October and has criticised Mariano Rajoy for his handling of the situation.
The Spanish Prime Minister issued an arrest warrant for Puigdemont, though this did not stop him from both running as leader of Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party, as well as voting by proxy.