May 27th, 2024

Catalan separatists lose majority as Spain’s pro-union Socialists win regional elections

By Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press on May 12, 2024.

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Separatist parties appear to be in danger of losing their decade-long hold of power in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region as the pro-union Socialist Party is poised to win the most votes in an election on Sunday, according to a near-complete count of the ballots.

The four pro-independence parties, led by the Together party of former regional president Carles Puigdemont, are set to total 61 seats, short of the key figure of 68 seats needed for a majority in the chamber.

The Socialists led by former health minister Salvador Illa are on course to win 42 seats, up from their 33 seats in 2021, when they also barely won the most votes but were unable to form a government.

The Socialists will still need to earn the backing of other parties to put Illa in charge. Dealmaking in the coming days, maybe weeks, will be key to forming a government. Neither a hung parliament nor a new election is out of the question.

But Illa’s surge should bode well for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the Socialists before a European Parliament election next month.

Separatists have held the regional government in Barcelona since 2012 and had won majorities in four consecutive regional elections. But polling and a national election in July showed that support for secession has shrunk since Puigdemont led an illegal – and futile – breakaway bid in 2017.

Sánchez’s Socialists have spent major political capital since then in reducing tensions in Catalonia, including pardoning jailed high-profile separatists and pushing through an amnesty for Puigdemont and hundreds more.

More than 5.7 million voters were called to participate. Potentially thousands of voters had trouble reaching their polling stations after Catalonia’s commuter rail service had to shut down several train lines after what officials said was the robbery of copper cables from a train installation near Barcelona.

The Together party of Puigdemont is set to restore its leadership of the separatist camp with 35 seats, up from 32 from three years ago. He fled Spain after the 2017 secession attempt and has run his campaign from southern France on the pledge that he will return home when lawmakers convene to elect a new regional president in the coming weeks.

Puigdemont’s escape from Spain became the stuff of legend among his followers, and a huge source of embarrassment for Spain’s law enforcement. He recently denied during the campaign that he had hidden himself in a car trunk to avoid detection while he slipped across the border during a legal crackdown that landed several of his cohorts in prison until Sánchez’s government pardoned them.

The Republican Left of Catalonia of sitting regional president Pere Aragonès plummeted to 20 seats from 33. But the leftist separatist party, which has ruled in minority, could be key to Illa’s hopes, although that would require it to break with the pro-secession bloc.

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

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

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