MADRID – Following a regional election in Catalonia, where pro-independence groups won by a slim margin despite large gains by pro-Spanish unity center-right Ciudadanos, political parties were prepared on Friday to start government-forming negotiations.
The vote was held as a consequence of the Spanish government triggering Article 155 of the Constitution, which saw the region’s autonomy reeled back and Parliament dissolved in response to a separatist referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence deemed illegal by the Spanish judiciary.
Thursday’s vote saw Ciudadanos win 37 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament, but it is likely to end up the main opposition party as three pro-independence parties that had formed part of the last government – Together for Catalunya (JxCat), the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC), and the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) – won a total of 70 seats, giving them a majority to rule.
The right-wing Popular Party of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy slumped in the polls, coming in the last place with just three seats, down from 11 in the 2015 vote.
More than 81 percent of the 5.5 million eligible voters cast their ballots, a record for any election in Spain’s modern history.
After the results were announced Thursday night, the recently-ousted president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, from JxCat, said from Brussels that pro-independence groups held an unarguable absolute majority.
The regional Ciudadanos leader, Ines Arrimada, said her party had “clearly won in votes, but pro-independence parties again hold the majority, though with less power.”
She said she doubted that the pro-independence parties would be able to agree enough to form a government.
In the 2015 elections, the left-wing ERC had, alongside Puigdemont’s center-right Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and several others, formed part of the Junts pel Si (JxSi) political alliance that won 62 seats and was backed by the anti-capitalist CUP to form a government.
This year, ERC decided to run on its own and not part of the alliance, which became JxCat.
Puigdemont, a member of JxCat, and his former vice president, Oriol Junqueras, from ERC, were both re-elected to parliament, though they are among the 18 Catalan lawmakers facing sedition and rebellion charges in Spain after the region unilaterally declared independence.
Puigdemont and five of his cabinet members traveled to Belgium before charges could be filed against him, while Junqueras stayed in Spain and was placed in pre-trial detention without bail.
According to Spanish legislation, the new Parliament must be formed within 20 days of the election and the 135 lawmakers must then elect the new regional president.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena has agreed to extend his investigation into possible sedition and other unlawful activity to include former Catalan president Artur Mas, seen by many as the architect of the current pro-independence bid, Marta Rovira the general secretary of ERC and the parliamentary spokeswoman of the CUP, Anna Gabriel, among others.