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Winners and losers: Five takeaways from the Catalan election

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Winners and losers: Five takeaways from the Catalan election
It was a great result for Puigdemont and Arrimadas but not so for PM Rajoy. Photo: AFP
10:21 CET+01:00
It's been a rollercoaster few months in Catalonia; violence at the polls during a banned referendum, a unilateral declaration of independence swiftly followed by the imposing of Article 155 and a suspension of home rule by the Spanish government.

In an election called by Madrid that was all about the strength of support for independence and how the central government of Mariano Rajoy has handled the situation, what exactly do the results tell us?

A victory for separatists

Thursday's election delivered a mandate back to the region's ousted separatist leaders after they campaigned from exile and behind bars.

With 68 seats needed for an overall majority in the 135-seat parliament, those parties who support breaking away from Spain managed to maintain their position as the largest grouping.

The three secessionist parties won a combined 70 seats – that's two less than they won in 2015 – but enough to prove that the fervour for independence is not on the wane.

"This is a result which no one can dispute," deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said from self-imposed exile in Belgium.   

"The Spanish state was defeated. (Spanish Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy and his allies lost," he told reporters.

Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list secured the best result of the three separatist groupings, in a major upset for Rajoy.

A victory for Ciudadanos


Ines Arrimadas celebrates her win on Thursday. Photo: AFP

And yet it, the night was also a resounding victory for Ciudadanos, the centrist newcomers campaigning steadfastedly for pro-unity.

The party, which was started 11 years ago by young lawyer Albert Rivera, has grown from strength to strength and on Thursday became the most voted for party after winning the votes of those opposed to independence.

Inés Arrimadas, the 36-year-old charismatic leader of the Catalan branch, took to the stage as results came in to cheers of ‘Presidente! Presidente!”.

But despite being the single largest party in the Catalan parliament, they will likely be blocked out by a pro-independence coalition.

A victory for Puigdemont

Despite, or maybe because of, leading a campaign from self-imposed exile in Brussels, the ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has defied critics to maintain his party's position as the most voted for pro-independence party.

Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalonia – secured the best result of the three separatist groupings, putting him in prime position to lead a coalition government.

If, of course, he isn't arrested and thrown in jail the moment he sets foot again in Spain where he is wanted on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds for his part in staging the illegal referendum of October 1st and subsequent declaration of independence on Oct 27th.

But will he be able to bring together a fractious group of separatist parties? And will he return to Spain and risk arrest?

A victory for democracy

Thursday's regional election saw a record turnout at the polls of 82 percent, six points more than in 2015. That means that only 18 percent of the electorate failed to turn out to vote, a demonstration of just how strongly people in Catalonia feel about the independence issue, whichever side of the fence they stand.

A defeat for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

The conservative prime minister gambled on a snap election to quell the clamour for a breakaway state after taking the unprecended step of evoking article 155 and stripping Catalonia of its treasured autonomy in the aftermath of the independence declaration.

With the stern insistence on constitutional order and apparent refusal of dialogue, Spain attempted to shut down the separatist cause with heavy handed tactics that included sacking the government, dissolving the parliament and investigating elected leaders for rebellion and sedition.

Such a position has clearly backfired, with the regional Popular Party all but wiped out in the poll, and a resounding show of support for separatism means the push for independence will be stronger than ever.

 

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