Spain’s Socialists hail ‘new era’ in Catalonia following election win

An endorsement of PM Sanchez’s bid to normalise relations, the victory breaks a decade-long majority for separatists.

Spain
The Socialists' candidate, Salvador Illa, arrives to vote during Catalonia's regional elections in La Roca del Valles [Josep Lago/AFP]

The governing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) has won Catalonia’s regional parliamentary elections, breaking the majority enjoyed by pro-independence parties for more than a decade.

With the vote count all but finished late on Sunday, it was announced that the Socialists had won 42 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament. The victory represents a vindication of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s bid to normalise relations with the restive region.

Sanchez’s controversial policy has included handing out pardons for convictions over the failed breakaway bid in 2017, led by Carles Puigdemont, currently in self-imposed exile in France.

Puigdemont’s centre-right, hardline separatist, Junts per Catalunya party, or Together for Catalonia, came second with 35 seats. Fellow separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), or the Republican Left of Catalonia, will have 20 seats, 13 less than in the last parliament.

‘Balancing act’

Combined, the four competing separatist parties took just 61 seats, leaving the independence movement with no chance of retaining their absolute majority. The turnout for the vote was notably low at 58 percent.

Spain’s largest opposition party, the conservative People’s Party, increased its representation from the three they won in the last vote in 2021 to 15.

However, with the Socialists having increased their number of seats by nine, it is thought the party’s local leader Salvador Illa should be able to put together a left-wing alliance with smaller parties to form a new regional government, albeit with a slim majority.

The Socialists could ally with the radical left Comuns Sumar, or Commons Unite, which won six seats and the moderate independence party ERC, which won 20.

Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from Barcelona, said despite the victory, forming a coalition would be “a fine balancing act” for the Socialists.

Speaking as the vote count concluded, Illa hailed “a new era for all Catalans, whatever they think”.

However, Puigdemont claimed on Monday that he would seek to form a pro-independence minority government.

“We can assemble a coherent majority,” he told a news conference in the south of France, according to the AFP news agency. “Not an absolute one, but a coherent one, bigger than the one the Socialist Party candidate can gather.”

He added that he may stand as a candidate for leader in the new Catalan regional parliament.

“I think there are options for being appointed, and therefore to announce my intention to apply as a candidate,” he said.

Amnesty

More than 5.7 million voters were eligible to choose lawmakers for the regional parliament based in Barcelona.

Separatists have held the regional government for more than a decade. But polling and the national election in July show that support for secession has shrunk since Puigdemont’s “illegal” breakaway bid in 2017.

But that did not prevent him from running in this election, campaigning from southern France. He had declared that he would return to Spain when newly elected lawmakers convened to choose a regional president after the election.

Puigdemont hopes to be cleared of any legal troubles after Spain’s parliament approved a contentious amnesty for him and hundreds of other separatists.

The amnesty forms part of Sanchez’s intense push to reduce tensions in Catalonia. Since becoming premier in 2018 following the failed separatist bid, he has sought to “heal the wounds” caused by the unprecedented political crisis.

The Socialists under Illa also won the most votes in the 2021 regional election but failed to stop separatist Pere Aragones from the ERC forming a government.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies