Elections in the autumn

Translation of Elecciones en Otoño by Arturo Puente

Exactly a year ago, Catalonia was preparing for the 9N consultation on independence. The logistics of the vote were complicated, with an omnipresent Spanish government ready to take advantage of the slightest mistake to take the Catalan government to court, and the Unió party (then in coalition with Convergència) resisting any move to text the limits of the law. Furthermore, Artur Mas didn’t have any reason to turn 9N into the definitive consultation because it was impossible for such a vote to take the independence process anywhere. But he was under pressure from pro-independence parties and civil society organizations, and he had to do a juggling act to keep ERC and Unió happy, both of whom he relied on to stay in office.

Joint list and postponement

Towards the end of September 2014, it became clear that Mas wouldn’t hold the 9N vote according to its original design. The president offered sovereignist leaders two options: plebiscitary elections with a joint list of Convergencia and ERC, or a watered-down consultation. It wasn’t the first time Convergència had tried to form a joint list with ERC. This idea had been put on the table before the European elections by Ernest Maragall. But ERC leader Junqueras resisted, as he resisted on the eve of 9N.

Whatever the case, when forced to choose between plebiscitary elections and a fake consultation, the parties opted for the latter, though not without tantrums from ERC and ICV-EUiA. But after the consultation, the parties saw, as Mas had already known, that the vote wouldn’t take them very far. So, they started to call for elections “as soon as possible”. A second round. “Before the end of the year”, demanded the CUP members of parliament in the President’s office. Mas laid down the same condition as ever, that ERC fold and stand on the join list they’d previously rejected. Junqueras refused again, for the third time.

On January 12 Convergència held a special meeting of its Executive Committee. In the midst of negotiations with ERC which were, supposedly, still ongoing, the president let slip a date: autumn. This caught some national leaders off guard, given the context in which civil society was demanding that the result 9-N be validated as soon as possible. It’s worth pointing out that, at that time, Mas was only in the process of taking full control of the ANC (the main pro-independence civil society organization), a process that would culminate months later. But by early 2015, Mas had decided to wait until after the summer to call the Catalans back to the polls.

Today is Saturday is September 26. The summer is over. In the end, the elections are being held exactly when and how Mas wanted them, in the autumn, and with a joint list of Convergència and ERC. The joint list, Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes), was the ideal formula for Mas to stop short the collapse in support his party had suffered in all recent elections. To get this list, the president’s inner circle has had to exert a suffocating pressure on ERC, use all the political threats in the book, and turn the ANC into a the broadcasting wing of the Catalan government. The purpose is clear, but if it was possible to achieve in May and June, it could have been achieved between December and January. The question is why it wasn’t. Has anyone wondered why Mas wanted elections in the autumn?

It’s naive to try to explain the delay by saying Mas wanted to cling to the presidency for as long as possible. He is nearing the end of his personal career is in politics and, at this point in his career, when Mas thinks about the future, he thinks as the heir of a dynasty. He wants to bequeath to his successor the same political empire that Jordi Pujol left to him. In 2012, resolving the independence process, or at least leaving it on track, became a personal need for Mas. In 2014, it became a necessity for his party, his family, and his political dynasty.

For Convergència to resolve the independence question, Mas needs an offer to come from Spain. The president’s closest advisors recognise this in private, the civil society organizations know, Junqueras knows, everyone who wants to know, knows. This largely explains the immobilism of Moncloa. The president of Convergència has delayed the elections for as long as possible because he is hoping for a change in the Spanish Government that can give his party, which has become a mass movement, an honourable exit plan. The idea is for Spain to make an offer that reduces support for independence by a few points in the polls, for Mas to hold a vote, and to inflict a democratic defeat on the independence movement. Catalonia will end the four year long independence process with a Convergència president and the more legal competencies than ever before. This is the roadmap that is hidden behind the promises of independence. Mas uses these promises as a threat but also, it’s worth remembering, as a plan B in case all else fails and one day independence becomes a feasible option.

Convergència’s last service to Spain

The historical mistake of the Spanish Government has been to forget that Convergència and Unió have acted as a bulwark against Catalan nationalism. For all that Rajoy’s PP, lost and without a vision of the state, have claimed the opposite, Convergència is an ally of the 1978 regime and it has a preference for a pact in the offices of Madrid over rebellion written into its DNA. But when the Catalan national pressure increased, Madrid had already started to believe their own lies, which were trumpeted daily by a media tea party with more influence over public opinion than ever. These voices, well-oiled by political powers in Madrid, immediately blamed the tectonic shift in Catalan politics at the end of 2010 on Artur Mas’s Convergència i Unió. In so doing, they dedicated themselves to demolishing the conservative wall that CiU represented, instead of reinforcing it.

Three years on, redirecting the independence process towards a solution negotiated with the state is the last and best service that Convergència can offer to the Spanish Establishment. But for that to happen, now as before, Mas needs to find an ally and an offer that can rescue the state and, at the same time, his party. Something like an offer of legal reforms that he can present to Catalans with fine words and shiny packaging. However, every day that passes this seems less likely to happen.

Mas will probably come first in the elections this Sunday. If the polls are right, his re-election as president will depend on a tense negotiation with the CUP. The pro-independence left knows that the problem isn’t Mas, it’s the obvious attempt to end the independence proces through a pact between elites. That’s why, while the clumsier parts of the Catalan left have focused their attention on Mas in an unprecedented lack of strategic vision, the CUP needs to sit down at the negotiating table and reach agreements that take the ball out of the Catalan government’s court and pass it back to the mass independence movement, the only force that can thwart Convergència’s plans.

If no agreement is reached, the new parliament will have 30 days, at most, to invest a president or call new elections. What’s the exact date by which the president must be chosen? The 9th of November, 2015. On the anniversary of the consultation for which Mas is facing criminal charges, the CUP will have to tell him that they won’t vote for him, accepting the risk of being accused of standing in the way of independence. The mental calendar of Artur Mas works according to an epic logic. It’s almost beyond parody, like the bad guy in a cartoon.