The latent battle
“What drives me up the wall —it doesn’t just bother me, it drives me up the wall!— is the way we found ourselves without our narrative”. The words were uttered by one of the prominent elements within the post-CDC political spectrum and the sentence encapsulates all the complexity of the situation in which that space finds itself today. After several elections, a storm is brewing and many are able to say out loud what could only be whispered until recently: Carles Puigdemont is the electoral trump card of the political centre that ruled in Catalonia for decades, but that space has been split into several parties and groups; it remains confused and divided about its long-term strategy, as well as paralysed by a profound feeling of grief over the leaders who are exiled and in jail. Prison and the trial have spared them a public debate —which today many feel can’t be postponed— about the reorganisation of that space and the recovery of a political discourse which some believe has been “put aside or left on the back burner” and others feel has been “hijacked” by ERC’s newfound pragmatism.
The main uncertainty is the role reserved to president Puigdemont in the wake of his slate’s success in the European elections and the poor results achieved by JxCat at the local polls. Puigdemont has always been reluctant to devote time to the party’s apparatus and is critical of the way the campaign machinery worked in the municipal elections. While so far he has only been a political foodie, now his inner circle feels that he might be willing to step into the kitchen to “put the house in order”, as they say internally. This would involve strengthening JxCat as a political party, either abandoning the PDECat and Crida for good, or turning them into satellite groups.
To quote an observer close to Puigdemont, “JxCat carries no lead in its wings” and the Catalan leader might have realised that, although he loathes party life, perhaps he will need to act “like Arzalluz did” in order to sort that political space out (1). Both Carles Puigdemont and Artur Mas would apparently be in agreement about uniting under the JxCat banner, but they would still have to reach an understanding about a new leadership for the PDECat, where some feel sidelined by the independent candidates and a critical group is still weighing up their support to create a new party that would follow in the footsteps of “the best Convergència”.
Election nights have left the post-CDC world with a bitter aftertaste ever since the Spanish polls of 2016, when candidate Francesc Homs won eight seats but lost votes. In the Catalan elections of December 21 2017, they beat ERC with an improvised slate, but Ciudadanos came out the winner overall. And in the Spanish elections this year, ERC got twice as many votes. Likewise, the results of the recent local and European elections have been mixed. Carles Puigdemont won the European ballot with nearly one million votes, but the rising star did not achieve the same results in the local elections. In Europe Puigdemont maintained the same support level as in the Catalan elections of 2017, but his success could not conceal the loss of voters which the space that the now-defunct CiU used to represent has been suffering since the 2011 local polls. In Barcelona city the Joaquim Forn and Elsa Artadi ticket came in fifth and only got half as many council seats as Xavier Trias four years earlier.
The only province capital where JxCat has got the upper hand is Girona, with nine elected councillors, and the ongoing negotiations will have a direct impact on the territorial power, the influence and finances of the PDECat, which had governed all four provinces and 33 out of the 41 county councils. In Barcelona’s metropolitan area JxCat has been virtually wiped out. They have no representatives in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Cornellà de Llobregat and l’Hospitalet. In the area’s largest towns, JxCat lost to the PSC in Molins de Rei, came first in Martorell with an outright majority and won again in Sant Cugat del Vallès.
The agreement for passing on the baton
Talks have kicked off to make way for a new generation of JxCat leaders, with several names in the cards under Puigdemont’s influence and with the necessary consent from a watchful Artur Mas. Firstly, there are the mayors that have done well at the polls, such as Marta Madrenas, Marc Solsona and Anna Erra, who wish to see their success rewarded with greater influence. Secondly, there are the so-called political sherpas, like Damià Calvet, Miquel Buch and a third government minister, Àngels Chacón. Furthermore, there are the independent candidates that ran with Puigdemont in 2017 putting wind in his sails in the aftermath of Spain’s direct rule on Catalonia. Many of them are highly critical of the apparatchiks whose help they must enlist in order to secure a victory at the polls.
The latent battle will be fought in the coming weeks and months. Both camps aim to sort out their space to respond to the Supreme Court’s verdict and prepare for a snap vote in Catalonia that would round off the election cycle.
(1) Xabier Arzalluz was the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party and responsible for its overall strategy, although he never sought public office.