Elections on the horizon
Politics 26/01/2021

Catalonia heading for a campaign limited by the pandemic

It will be possible to move between towns if it is to attend political events, which will be adapted to the restrictions

4 min
Archive image of the central meeting of JxYes in Girona in the campaign for the elections of 27-S 2015.

BarcelonaDuring the next two weeks we will be able to see Laura Borràs campaigning in Girona, Pere Aragonès in Sant Vicenç dels Horts and Salvador Illa in Tarragona despite the local lockdown in force in Catalonia. None of them would be breaking the rules and neither would any of the people participating in the rallies or campaign acts. "The exercise of the right of demonstration and political participation" is one of the exceptions - present in the self-responsible declaration of the Generalitat - that now can also be used for the parties to move around the territory. As a fundamental right, it acts as a safe conduct because both the candidates of the political formations and the voters can attend in-person events or small meetings to campaign for the February 14 elections, sources of the Government confirm.

Citizens will therefore be able to move from their municipality if they are interested in the message of any political formation, unlike in the case of culture or sport. The parties are already facing the final stretch before starting the strangest election campaign in history. A campaign that, depending on what the Catalan High Court of Justice decides on 8 February, could be cut short halfway through.

According to the Government, there are five variables to measure the legitimacy of the elections. Not many problems are expected either to be able to apply the result that comes out of the ballot boxes or to have everything ready to vote on February 14. The executive has more doubts about the exercise of everyone's right to vote (fear of contagion can lead to an exorbitant increase in abstention, according to reports) and, above all, about the opportunities for deliberation on the campaign trail and for parties to present programmes and candidates.

No kisses or hugs

These are the objectives that will have to be guaranteed over the next two weeks in a context of a pandemic that will continue to monopolise public debate. The General Directorate of Electoral Processes has drawn up a specific protocol to try to adapt the electoral campaign to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19. Some are more or less obvious recommendations, such as prioritising online events and, if they are in person, holding them outdoors, or ventilating the spaces and avoiding contact between people who are not part of the same bubble of coexistence. But the protocol goes into more detail: no more than 100 people will be allowed to attend any political act outdoors or in highly ventilated spaces (500 in normal closed spaces, provided that they represent a maximum of 50% of the capacity) and all attendees will have to register in order to be able to track and trace cases in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Those infected or isolating will not be able to attend political events precisely to avoid possible contagion, although they will be able to exercise their right to vote in person on election day. To minimise the risks, the protocol - approved by Procicat - also stipulates that people may not shout or sing in closed spaces, that they may not eat or drink, that no banners or other material may be distributed to those attending and that all physical contact must be avoided: no kissing, hugging or shaking hands. In addition, the candidates will no longer walk around markets and at all times they will have to keep a safe distance and wear a mask.

Hybrid events

Although there is a general protocol that the parties have to follow, each political formation has decided to organise itself in its own way, depending also on the territory and the profiles that they most want to promote. In the case of JxCat and Esquerra, their candidates -Laura Borràs and Pere Aragonès, respectively- will hold events in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, but they also want to have a presence in the county capitals, where a large part of the vote is contested by the pro-independence electorate -which is more concentrated in the interior of Catalonia-. In this sense, the two groups are organising a campaign bus -which transports the journalists- to cover the events. They guarantee that there will be security measures, despite the fact that it will involve bringing together people from different media. Rallies are planned at least once a day, in the afternoon, in person, equivalent to traditional campaign events, but in a reduced format and which can also be followed online. The CUP will follow a similar format giving priority to the telematic route. The PSC, En Comú-Podemos, Cs and PP will reproduce the same scheme. They will deal with more sectoral issues in the morning, and small-scale political events in the afternoon. However, despite visiting all the district capitals, they will focus on the metropolitan area, where most of their potential voters live. In the case of Salvador Illa's socialists, their objective is to capture the vote that on December 21, 2017, opted for the leader of Cs Inés Arrimadas.

State leaders and political prisoners

The PSC, Cs, the PP and En Comú-Podemos will have their state leaders in Catalonia during this electoral campaign, despite having to travel from Madrid. The president of the Spanish government and leader of the PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, will visit Catalonia up to four times before 14-F, and it is expected that other socialist ministers and the speaker of the Spanish Parliament, Meritxell Batet -who will go on her own tour with the first secretary of the PSC, Miquel Iceta- will also visit. In turn, Pablo Iglesias, vice-president of the Spanish government and leader of Podemos, will also participate in various events with candidate Jéssica Albiach and Barcelona mayor Barcelona, Ada Colau. Also the state leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, wants to be in Catalonia six or seven times in the next days, while Arrimadas will also intensify her presence to try to overcome the prospects of Cs.

Political prisoners will also have a leading role in this campaign. On 14 January the prisons of Lledoners, Wad-Ras and Puig de les Basses once again proposed that they be granted parole. In July, it took the Generalitat twelve days to approve parole so we could expect the same now. All the parties assume that the presence of the prisoners will be relevant in the campaign: they will be able to participate directly in the political events, even though they are not candidates. Will ERC hold a meeting in Sant Vicenç dels Horts to coincide with Oriol Junqueras' release from prison? Will JxCat take advantage of this to bring together Jordi Sànchez, Josep Rull and Joaquim Forn in an event with Laura Borràs and Carles Puigdemont? All of them, moreover, will have already served a quarter of their sentences - there will still be Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Jordi Turull and Raül Romeva - and will also be able to obtain prison permits. The question is whether, before the end of the campaign, they will all have returned to prison.