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The runaway Catalan leader holds the key to Spain’s electoral impasse

The runaway Catalan leader holds the key to Spain’s electoral impasse
  • The latest developments
  • Stocks and bonds decline as no party or bloc wins a majority
  • Spain faces protracted negotiations or new elections
  • Prime Minister Sanchez has more options with the regional parties
  • The exiled Catalan independence leader is signaling a hard line

BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) – A Catalan independence leader on the run from Spanish justice may hold the key to resolving the political impasse after Sunday’s elections ended in a hung parliament.

Former Catalan regional government chief Carles Puigdemont, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since leading a failed campaign to separate Catalonia from Spain in 2017, unexpectedly finds himself a potential kingmaker after no bloc on the left or right wins enough seats to form a majority.

One way out of the maze would be for Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to get a vote in favor of, or at least abstain from, a parliamentary vote on forming a government from Puigdemont’s Gonts party in exchange for more concessions on independence.

The centre-right People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox party won the most seats in parliament with a total of 169 – short of the 176 needed for a majority and confounding predictions in opinion polls.

The ruling Socialists (PSOE) and the far-left Somar won 153 but have more prospects of negotiating support than the small Basque and Catalan separatist parties, as they did after the 2019 elections.

Sanchez could win against the left-wing, separatist party, Escera Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). But he will also likely need the support of a more hard-line Junts, who has not supported Sanchez in the past four years.

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Gones General Secretary Jordi Turol said on Monday that he would take advantage of the “window of opportunity” created by the electoral impasse to achieve Catalan independence.

“The state knows that if it wants to negotiate with us, there are two basic issues and they generate consensus in Catalonia, namely amnesty and self-determination,” he said in an interview with local radio station RAC 1.

Turol was among nine imprisoned Catalan separatist leaders pardoned by Sanchez in 2021 for their role in the 2017 independence bid. However, many more still face trial, chief among them Puigdemont.

Puigdemont, who still wields significant influence within Juntes, said in mid-July that the party would not support Sanchez because he was unreliable. Early Monday, he tweeted that Junts is a party that keeps its word.

Puigdemont was stripped of the immunity he enjoyed as a member of the European Parliament earlier this month, paving the way for his extradition, as Spanish authorities have demanded for the past six years.

The Catalan team is likely to play a strong ball in any post-election negotiations that revealed that the rapprochement with Madrid did not work in their favor, said Joan Escolis, a writer and analyst on Catalan politics.

“The independence movement continues to lose votes,” Escoulis said. “The only thing keeping them in the headlines at the moment is the fact that the combination of seats means that the decision of Jontes and Puigdemont… holds the key to forming a government.”

The two main Catalan separatist parties ERC and Junts lost 550,000 votes in Sunday’s elections compared to 2019, while the Socialists gained 418,000 votes and were the most voted party in the region, taking seven seats to their credit.

A difficult situation

However, after winning the most seats, the People’s Party will take the first stab at trying to muster enough votes in parliament to win the vote for the premiership. But its alliance with the far-right Vox party and hardline stance on separatism will make it difficult to garner support from any other faction.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” a Fox official told Reuters.

If neither bloc is able to muster sufficient parliamentary support to form a government, a second election would be a likely outcome.

As elections approached, the People’s Party seemed willing to form an alliance with Vox to govern – an outcome that would have brought hardline nationalists into government for the first time since the end of Franco’s dictatorship and Spain’s return to democracy in the 1970s.

As it happened, the Socialists did better than polls had predicted. However, the leader of the People’s Party, Alberto Núñez Viejo, declared victory and urged other parties not to block his attempt to form a government in order to stabilize Spain.

separate demands

The seats of the Basque parties are also likely to play a role.

“After the elections, we have a very difficult parliamentary calculation, but it seems that our votes will be decisive again,” said Anionik Ortuzar, leader of the moderate nationalist Basque party PNV. PNV won five seats in the House of Representatives.

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Arnaldo Otegi, president of the Basque separatist party EH Bildu, said he would definitely not support PP and Vox to form a government. Otegi did not mention the possibility of supporting a left-wing coalition.

The slim margins mean that even the single seat won by other regional groups – from the Canary Islands, northwestern Galicia and northeastern Navarre – could become decisive.

The law does not set a deadline for the process, but if within two months of the first vote on the prime minister no candidate obtains a majority, a new election must be held.

Spanish stocks fell and government bond prices fell in early trade amid the possibility of a prolonged deadlock.

(Reporting by Joan Faus in Barcelona and Belén Carreño and Emma Pinedo in Madrid; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro; Writing by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Angus McSwan and Aislin Leng

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Reports on the politics and economy of Spain. She is also an editor for Reuters Next. He has been a financial reporter and business editor with numerous outlets over the past 20 years.