Politics 13/02/2021

The infinite tie and the deadlock

This Sunday's elections are presented as an internal plebiscite within the pro-independence movement

2 min
The empty Chamber of Parliament in an archive image.

BarcelonaTrapped in a kind of infinite stalemate since the 2015 plebiscite elections definitively shifted the left-right axis in favour of the national axis, Catalonia returns to the polls amidst the shadow of a new stalemate. Neither the foreseeable significant drop in turnout as a result of the pandemic, nor the bad weather, nor the disaffection, seems likely to be able to undo the perennial stalemate in which Catalan politics has settled and which not only affects the dispute between the different blocs, but also the various options fighting for Catalan independence leadership.

Let's recap. On the night of 27 September 2015, the ballot boxes resolved the plebiscite with a victory for pro-independence in seats - JxSí and the CUP won 72 - but not in votes, since the sum of the two forces reached 47.8%. A result that drew two very balanced blocs but that, after overcoming the threat of deadlock and another unexpected draw - that of the CUP assembly on whether or not to invest Artur Mas -, the pro-independence movement interpreted as an endorsement to move forward with its roadmap, reinforced on 1 October 2017 with the holding of the referendum.

Even then, the result of the referendum was something of a draw, a non-definitive conclusion. Despite the 90.2% Yes vote, the figure of 2.3 million Catalans (43.4% of the census) who went to vote despite the police charges equalled that of 9-N three years earlier, and it was difficult to manage: it was not such a massive mobilisation to simply go ahead and apply an unilateral independence (DUI) that, on the other hand, had not been prepared, but neither was it a sufficiently low figure to interpret that Catalans had dissociated themselves from the pro-independence project that the Govern was then defending.

The events of October, the application of the 155 article of the Constitution, and the arrival of prison and exile put an end to Junts pel Sí and led to the 2017 elections in which JxCat and ERC were once again running separately and competing for the pro-independence leadership. Even so, they did so in a state of shock due to the first consequences of the repression and without having been able to digest everything that had happened. Despite the fact that Ciudadanos emerged as the leading force, JxCat beat ERC by only 12,500 votes - and two seats difference - and kept the helm of the Generalitat after another agonising investiture with the CUP.

The internal plebiscite

Now the polls are far removed from that emotional context. The pandemic has changed the debate and three years have passed in which the pro-independence parties have had time to reflect and rethink their strategies. So much so that, although the challenge of surpassing 50% of the vote for the first time is still on the table, today's elections are presented almost as an internal plebiscite. It seems like a duel between JxCat and ERC to know which of the two strategies - confrontation with the State and unilateral flirtation, or attenuating the clash and betting on dialogue while accumulating forces to try to force the agreed referendum - is imposed on the next term.

The polls, for the moment, also show a tight result in this case. Interpreting it well will be one of the main responsibilities of independentists from this Sunday night on, when they have left behind the campaign and the Manichean speeches about pacts and criticisms, and the result of an election - that the PSC might also win - is known. If not, the infinite tie could lead to a deadlock.