Alternative left wins Barcelona, Catalonia faces political changes

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The results of the local elections in Catalonia could be a turning point for Catalan politics with some important implications. The local elections occurred in a context of polarisation over the Catalan self-determination process, with Catalan elections on the horizon (unofficially called for the next September 27th), but also in one of indignation against the ruling parties in Madrid and Barcelona due to the effects of the economic crisis and austerity plans. The defeat in Barcelona of the ruling party CiU by Barcelona en Comú, a coalition of post-communists, social movements, and the new state-wide political force Podemos inspired by the Indignados Movement means a historical result for the alternative left that is now in position to rule the city and will probably need the support of the leftist secessionists of ERC and CUP.

Beyond the capital of Catalonia, the results point toward two general tendencies to be highlighted. On the one hand, the parties supporting the self-determination process, including the ruling party (CiU), but also ERC and CUP, taking into account general results in 946 municipalities, are now stronger at local level than in 2011. However, there is a clear switch within the pro-secessionist vote group towards the left. CiU loses more than five percentage points and hundreds of local representatives whereas ERC (leftist secessionists) almost doubles its result and CUP (alternative leftist secessionists) more than trebles its number of representatives. Therefore, there is an overall increase for pro-sovereignty parties which now has more leftists than in 2011, as I mentioned. On the other hand, there is a clear increase for alternative parties and a decrease for the Catalan traditional political forces CiU and PSC. These two parties accounted for more than 50% of votes in all local elections during the last years and ruled most of the cities, but have now less than 40% of the vote. Fragmentation seems to be the rule in many local councils, with no clear or absolute majorities.

This situation poses at least three important challenges to Catalan politics. Firstly, governability will now be complicated, with ruling coalitions being the norm. Governments formed by two, three or more parties will have to be implemented. However, several municipalities with historical socialist or nationalist majorities are not used to such arrangements and this is a clear challenge for local political culture. Secondly, the self-determination process led by the ruling party CiU is now facing a paradox: its support has globally increased, but CiU, the Catalan president Artur Mas’ party, has lost Barcelona and overall support. Therefore, the self-determination process will probably see changes in its configuration. Thirdly, the alternative left has won several important positions, including the city of Barcelona, and will now face an opportunity to show its capacity to govern and implement a political programme, which has innovative proposals such as social policies and direct democracy participation.

In a nutshell, these results show a complex picture of Catalonia, as a plural, innovative and dynamic country in the context of popular demands for self-determination and social policies. Political abilities to transform these demands into real policy will certainly be required in the next weeks.


by Marc Sanjaume I Calvet

Postdoctoral Researcher at UQÀM (Montreal)

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