By Dewi Morris | Political Editor
The Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC), Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s party, won the popular vote with 23%. PSC led by Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister up until a few months ago, will now aim to form a government. Moving Illa proved a risk worth taking for Sánchez who has aimed to reassert dominance in the region since its independence referendum in 2017 which, deemed illegal by Spain, fired the country’s biggest political and constitutional crisis in decades.
However, Illa’s win has by no means quelled the independence debate; the election was a tight three-way race between PSC and the two leading pro-independence parties. Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) won 21% of the vote and 33 seats, the same amount as PSC. Together for Catalonia (Junts) won 20%, 32 seats. Combined with Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), the pro-independence parties won 51% of the vote and increased their majority in the Catalan Parliament.
Illa’s attempt to form a government may be threatened by the pro-independence majority. During the election campaign, the three pro-independence parties signed a document pledging not to work with PSC. Political commentators speculate ERC may form a secessionist government with ECP or Junts, this may result in a more gradual push for independence while cooling down the tension between the Catalan Government and Madrid, an approach ERC favour. However, it is reported that ECP leader Jéssica Albiach aims to join talks with Illa and ERC leader Pere Aragonès to form a coalition.
Vox will enter the Catalan Parliament for the first time with 11 seats. The far-right anti-Islam and anti-feminist party has campaigned on issues such as closing Mosques and deporting Muslims from Spain. Vox entered the Spanish Government for the first time in April 2019 with 24 seats, in November 2019, Vox became Spain’s third largest party with 52 seats.
Catalonia’s election was of course overshadowed by COVID-19. Turnout was only 53%, down from 79% in 2017, this is likely because of the virus. Individual’s self-isolating or carrying the virus were allowed to attend polling stations during the eerie final hour they were open. Dubbed zombie-hour, polling workers were required to wear full body PPE.
The election on Valentine’s day was three and a half years after Catalonia’s independence referendum. The referendum was passed in law by the Catalan Parliament but was seen as illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Only 42% of Catalonians voted on the day. Thousands of police officers were deployed to Catalonia where voters and protestors were met with violence, 839 civillians were injured. The vote counted 90% in favour of independence. Polls today show support for independence at 44%.