BARCELONA – Pro-Spanish unity and separatist political parties on Saturday staged a series of campaign events up and down the affluent Catalonia region of Spain on what was the final weekend before a snap election that aims to revive a regional parliament suspended by the Spanish government following an illegal declaration of independence.
Parties in favor of Spanish unity, dominated by local branches of major national groups like the conservative Popular Party, the center-left Socialists (PSC-PSOE) and the business-friendly Citizens, which has its roots in Catalonia, see the election as an opportunity to keep the separatists, which include Together For Catalonia, the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and left-wing CUP, from re-entering local government.
At an event in a central Barcelona theater, Citizens party candidate, Inés Arrimadas, was joined by her party leader Albert Rivera, former French prime minister, Manuel Valls, and Peruvian Nobel Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, to press home a campaign message insisting that Catalan nationalism was “the antithesis of the spirit of the European Union.”
“We are the only party that has the flag of the European Union in the very fabric of its heart, because we are called Citizens, because our principal value is to defend citizenship as a whole rather than exclusionary values of identity,” said the 36-year-old Arrimadas, who led the opposition in the Catalan parliament up until its suspension in late Oct.
The Citizens party has previously said it would study all possible ways to keep separatists out of the Catalan government, including the possibility of forming a coalition with regional socialist candidate Miquel Iceta, who himself was leading a campaign rally in the city of Girona, some 100-kilometers (62-miles) northeast of Barcelona.
Iceta was also joined by the national head of his party, PSOE secretary-general Pedro Sanchez, who has sponsored his regional leader as the “candidate of reconciliation.”
“After five lost years in Catalonia, it is time for four years of coexistence and social justice. The only candidate who can ensure that is Iceta,” said the PSOE leader, referring the former dominance of separatists in the regional government.
The ex-Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, vice-president Oriol Junqueras, and a number of senior ministers were deposed as part of the Spanish government’s decision to trigger Article 155 Constitution following Catalonia’s independence declaration, and the politicians were now under investigation for allegations of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds.
While ERC leader Junqueras remained in preventative prison in Madrid, a portrait face took center stage at the party’s central Barcelona rally on Saturday, where stand-in candidate Marta Rovira addressed a crowd of around 2,000.
“There are parties that wanted these elections because they began with an advantage from the State. Meanwhile our candidate, Oriol Junqueras, is in prison because they fear he will incite violence – what violence?” Rovira said to her followers, insisting that the choice came down to the ERC or Citizens, to build a new country or to submit to the “Spanish elite.”
Recent polling has suggested the ERC and Citizens will take a roughly 30 percent share of the vote each, an outcome that would prompt a scramble to form coalitions among the pro-unity camps and the separatists alike.
Former regional leader Carles Puigdemont, who headed the separatist coalition government responsible for independence declaration, was running in the elections from self-imposed exile in Brussels while an arrest warrant remains in place for him in Spain.
The Catalan offshoot of the left-wing Podemos party at their own ceremony in Barcelona advocated a complete shake-up of politics in Catalonia and its local candidate, Xavier Doménech, said he would not support the investiture of either Arrimadas or Puigdemont should they emerge as leaders in the election.
“We have come to transform, not to abstain,” he said, receiving support from Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.
The leader of the Catalan Popular Party, Xavier García Albiol, also met with the former French PM Valls, who agreed that applying Article 155 had been the correct thing for the Spanish government to do in the face of the separatist developments in Catalonia.
Voters in Catalonia are due to head to the polls on Dec. 21.