Parties staunchly supporting independence have won the elections to the regional Parliament only in terms of seats, not votes. Junts Pel Sí and CUP ( a party that aims to exit Spain, EU and Eurozone) would jointly reach 72 seats (they held 74) for an overall majority (68), but total votes stand at 47.5%. Furthermore, regional government head Artur Mas’ coalition, obtained 9 seats less than in previous elections of 2012.
Even if other parties might prove unable to form a non-nationalist cabinet, this setback will have long-lasting consequences. Portraying these regional elections as a referendum means that defeat will shelve any drive for independence for a long time. Dreams of mutiny in Catalonia have come to an abrupt end. But it would be an illusion to believe separatists will throw in the towel. Even if they lack enough support amongst the population, their ultimate goal is to force Madrid to make a series of blunders fuelling angry sentiment in Catalonia.
They will wage guerrilla warfare, gradually raising the stakes in the hope that the central government might crack down and quell de force (with force) a fictitious rebellion.
They are betting on mounting pressure from far-right extremists as the speediest way to enlarge the current gap between communities. Their independence project rests on the clumsy handling of the situation by the government in office. They guess their ranks may grow out of frustration.
The Madrid establishment has conducted an appaling campaign, portraying a catastrophic outlook should the independence parties prevail. Threats have ranged from barring Catalonia from the EU and the euro to a plausible bank run. Prominent political and economic leaders have transformed the regional poll into a fully-fledged independence referendum, playing the tune nationalists are all too eager to hear. Such threats have undoubtedly played a role in influencing middle-of-the-road followers. Yet they have also fuelled anger amongst many lukewarm nationalists.
The election results have avoided the worst from happening. The uncertainty linked to an overwhelming victory of the nationalist parties would have inflicted huge economic damage on Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Investment in the region may still suffer a severe downturn, as the danger of severance will loom for years to come. Finding a fair way out seems essential to avoid such a deterioration from happening. But reaching a compromise should not undermine complete confidence in proper law enforcement. Otherwise investors’ fears might resurface, dealing the Spanish economy a bitter blow.