Salvador Illa to lead Socialists in Catalan elections
The party hopes the current Spanish Health minister will help the party "win the elections"
BarcelonaA last minute change at the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC). Current leader Miquel Iceta has decided to step aside as candidate and the party's new candidate for the 14 February elections will be Spanish Minister of Health and party secretary for organisation, Salvador Illa. After the two leaders denied this possibility during the last few months, the option with which the Socialists believe they can get a better result at the polls has finally prevailed. This is what Iceta himself admitted at a midday meeting with the party leadership: "The polls tell us that our expectations are improving, but our goal is not just a few more seats, our goal must be to win the elections [...]. Our aim is to win the presidency of the Generalitat", he said.
Sources close to the PSC leader explain to ARA that the decision was taken in mid-November, after a meeting in Madrid between Iceta and Spanish President Pedro Sánchez. Iceta told Sánchez of the doubts he had about the elections: since the summer the party had internal studies that pointed to "weaknesses" in its leadership and surveys that said that although 70% of Catalans wanted change, most of them did not believe it would come from the ballot box. According to the same sources, Iceta decided to bet on a game-changer against the apparent "resignation" and, in the same conversation with Sánchez, the possibility of giving way to Illa emerged.
The head of the Spanish executive, who had already attempted a renewal of the leadership of the PSC when he proposed the failed candidacy of Iceta for the presidency of the Senate - vetoed in the Catalan Parliament by the pro-independence parties -, agreed to hand over his Minister of Health to try to win in Catalonia, but asked that the announcement not be made public until the end of the year, anticipating an improvement in the indicators of the pandemic. On the same day, Iceta made the proposal to Illa, who agreed to become a candidate for 17 November, after asking for twenty-four hours to think about it.
Since then, the decision had been kept secret, and it was not until this Wednesday that it was made known to the PSC leadership, who unanimously endorsed it. In her speech, Iceta justified his move as an attempt to make the voters see that "change" in the Catalan administration "is possible" and that the Socialists are "going all out" to achieve it. "And this is why I propose that we offer Catalan society not a candidate, but a president. President Salvador Illa [...] Let's make Salvador Illa president! I am asking for the PSC but, above all, I am asking for Catalonia", Iceta said. This afternoon the two will intervene before the party's national council, which will have to ratify the candidatures for the elections. Other top candidates include Eva Granados, Ramon Espadaler and the writer and activist Gemma Lienas.
Despite the PSC's good election prospects, several socialist sources have long pointed out that with Illa the party could get a better result (it now has 17 MPs and the latest polls expect it to have as many as 25). The minister, reinforced in the media through his management of the pandemic in the State, scored better than the first secretary in the assessment of leaders of the Center for Opinion Studies (CEO). With him as a candidate, the party is now looking for an extra boost to win the elections. The news, in any case, has been a surprise even within the ranks of the PSC. Despite the fact that it had been rumoured for days that the minister could be the candidate, both he and Iceta had denied it outright on numerous occasions. Despite the fact that the decision had been made since November, for example, this very Tuesday night Illa denied it in an interview on TVE: "It will be Miquel Iceta. The candidate that we will present in an election that has to offer a change in Catalonia [...] will be Miquel Iceta, who is the person in the best position to lead this change in Catalonia".
A few hours later it was clear that this would not be the case, and it remains to be seen how the decision will affect Madrid, where Illa will have to leave the Ministry of Health. The PSOE, which sees in him the possibility of entering the Generalitat, has limited itself for the moment to putting in value the "generous gesture" of Iceta and to thank the "tireless and determining" task of Illa in the fight against coronavirus. "A pandemic in which, fortunately, we are already beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Ferraz adds, thus indirectly responding to the opposition's criticism of the Spanish government minister's departure in the midst of the health crisis. The text ends by stating that Iceta will undoubtedly continue to play a "fundamental role", leaving the door open for him to make the leap to the Spanish government. Sources around him say that he is "available" and at the "disposal" of the party, but make it clear that his goal at this time is to focus on the campaign.
Born in La Roca del Vallès in 1966 and a former mayor of the municipality for 10 years, Illa was appointed organisational secretary of the PSC in 2016, after Iceta won the primary against Núria Parlon. Since then, he has done nothing but gain weight and authority in the PSC, as the party's head of election campaigns and the main negotiator of post-election pacts. After he also participated in the agreement with ERC for the investiture of Sánchez, the Spanish president entrusted him with the Ministry of Health, where he has unexpectedly had to manage the covid-19 pandemic. At no time, however, has he lost control of the party, delegating day-to-day to a group of loyal party members.
Apart from being a possible candidate, his projection had long ago placed him as the future leader of the PSC. With strong positions on independence -especially on self-determination and amnesty-, his profile gives strength to the PSC for the main objective of these elections: to recover the bulk of the voters that went to Ciudadanos in the last elections, giving the latter victory in the elections.