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Explainer: What now for Catalonia after the separatists secured election victory?

Independence is still a distant prospect despite yesterday’s election victory for separatists as Madrid reject appeal for meeting.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was happy with yesterday's result.
Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was happy with yesterday's result.
Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/PA Images

Updated at 8.30pm

CATALAN SEPARATISTS SECURED a majority in the region’s snap election yesterday, giving fresh impetus for their independence push and dealing a blow to the Spanish government.

The ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is currently in exile in Belgium, and has demanded to be heard by the EU on the calls for an independent state.

“I only demand to the European Commission or other European institutions, to listen, to listen to the Catalan people, not only the Spanish state,” he told reporters in Brussels.

The Commission has so far supported Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s position on the independence crisis.

“It has the right to sustain the Spanish position but I think it is necessary to listen to all the parties in this conflict. I think the Catalan people has the right to be listened to by the European Commission,” Puigdemont added.

However, it appears Puigdemont’s appeal has fallen, once again, on deaf ears, as Rojoy rejected the call to meet him, as he warned the new Catalan government should fully respect the law.

Speaking at a press conference, Rajoy said he would try to make an effort to hold talks with the new Catalan government. However, he didn’t clarify if he would meet with Puigdemont.

“The person I should be meeting with is with the one who won the elections, and that is Mrs Arrimadas.”

With Puigdemont’s play for EU support, and tense comments from Madrid, what will happen in Catalonia after these elections?

Why were these elections important?

Madrid had called yesterday’s vote after secessionists declared independence on October 27, amid Spain’s worst political crisis since democracy was reinstated following dictator Franco’s death in 1975.

The vote was widely seen as a moment of truth on the independence question, a hugely divisive issue for the wealthy northern region, that has rattled a Europe already shaken by Brexit.

But with the secessionists maintaining their parliamentary majority, the move to call snap polls appeared to backfire against Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had sacked the regional government and dissolved its parliament.

Independence remains a very contentious issue in the region, however, and this was clearly demonstrated with the pro-Spanish unity party Ciudadanos securing the most number of seats for any one party with 37.

Unless the three pro-independence lists fail to clinch a deal to work together in the coming months, however, they will govern Catalonia with 70 seats – two less than their previous tally.

So what happens now?

First of all, the three independence parties need to work together to secure that overall parliament majority.

This will be far from simple.

The leader of the movement, Puigdemont, isn’t in the country and will surely be arrested for an outstanding warrant if and when he returns to Spain.

Other independence leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, are behind bars pending trial.

With this leadership void, the independence movement is at risk of failing to get its house in order which would mean a return to the polls.

“The biggest loser of election night was the People’s Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which obtained only three seats,” said Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.

It is unclear whether Puigdemont will be able to be re-appointed… as he will be arrested if he comes back to Spain. As a result, the investiture process will be far from straightforward, and the risk of new elections in 2018 remains high. The investiture of a new first minister is likely to be a protracted and noisy process.

If it does manage to rule parliament, then the question of independence becomes high on the agenda again.

But, rather than having another vote like in October, it is expected that the separatists will try to enter negotiations with Madrid.

For all the talk that the separatist cause had been legitimised, analysts predict a softening around the edges of the independence bid.

The Catalan business elite, some of whose members have close links with Puigdemont’s party, “know that they have to give a fresh boost to tourism and the economy”, sociologist Narciso Michavila told AFP.

The Spanish government, however, may not so forthcoming with tough rhetoric from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his party.

Pablo Casado of Rajoy’s PP party warned the separatists that “whatever new government rules the region, (the separatists) know the consequences for breaking the law”. He has repeatedly said there can be no talks unless separatists abandon their independence drive.

At stake in the crisis is the economy of a region that has seen its tourism sector suffer and more than 3,100 companies – including the largest banks, utilities and insurers – move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia.

Yesterday’s election was victory for the separatist  movement in Catalonia, but there is still a long way to go before their goal of a State independent of Spain can be achieved.

With reporting from AFP

Read: Catalan separatists win absolute parliamentary majority

Read: Catalonia: Ex-parliament speaker spends night in jail for involvement in independence drive

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Sean Murray

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