Friday, January 15, 2016

Catalunya On the Road to Independence

We had a bet about the new Catalan pro-independence government.  My friend paid up the five euros, thinking that our bet had been that Junts pel Si and the CUP would reach an agreement in time and there would not be new elections.  But after rereading my last blog post, I realized our bet had been that Artur Mas would be invested.  I’ve returned the five euros and forked over five.  We’re both sad to see President Mas go, but happy that the process is once again moving ahead.

Still, I wasn’t confused about everything.  I was right to think that President Mas would step aside in order not to be the stumbling block on the road to independence.  Just when we all thought that on Monday new elections would be convoked for March, President Mas announced on Saturday afternoon that the Junts pel Si coalition and CUP had come to an agreement.  He would step aside.  The CUP would formally agree, in writing, that they would enable a stable government and not vote against anything that promoted the move towards independence.  There would not be new elections in March after all.  Mas proposed Carles Puigdemont as his successor and this was acceptable to the CUP.

Carles Puigdemont has, until now, been the mayor of Girona.  He is a journalist and a long-time independence supporter, helping to form and serving as the president of the Association of Municipalities for Independence.  He speaks Catalan, Spanish, English, French, and Romanian.

I was thrilled that the two sides had come to an agreement.  I was equally sad that Artur Mas would not be the president who would lead the process to its conclusion.  I watched his 50-minute discourse on television on Saturday and had that overwhelming experience when you cry both for joy and for sorrow.

I’m very sorry that Artur Mas will not be the next president of Catalunya, the one who brings in the new era.  I am also disappointed with the people who never liked him and still don’t like him and don’t give him credit for the work he has done – at significant personal risk and with all the force of the powerful Spanish state against him – and for what he has achieved for Catalans in spite of much adversity. 

These are the self-proclaimed, so-called radicals, supposedly open-minded, progressive people who reject prejudice and injustice.  And yet they are the ones who can’t let go of an old idea -- the idea that because ex-President Jordi Pujol was (probably) corrupt (pending trial), that his successor is also corrupt.  Guilt by association smacks of injustice.  It is an old idea that should have been retired by now. 

They hold it against him that he joined the independence movement late.  “He didn’t use to be an independentista”, some friends tell me.  And so what?  “He only became an independentista because he saw the public demand for it”.  But isn’t that what a good public representative is supposed to do?  I’m sure many Americans would like that of their elected representatives when it comes to imposing some sort of gun control.  It seems to me that someone who can see what the public wants and can see that there is, practically speaking, no other real solution to the nation’s problems, merits credit, not scorn.  Artur Mas was able to see the reality around him and change his political stand accordingly.  His critics are not able to do the same. 

Carles Puigdemont, the new Catalan president, appears also to have what it takes to do the job.  Those on both sides of the old arguments support him and wish him (and the nation) well.  He has been officially invested, the new government has been formed, and Catalunya is back on the road to independence.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Together for Independence

On 27 September 2015, early Catalan parliamentary elections were held.  Having been called by Artur Mas, the president of Catalunya, they were to serve as a plebiscite on the question of independence from Spain – a question to which the Spanish government did not want to hear the answer and thus would not allow a referendum.

For these elections, the conservative CIU party joined with the left-wing ERC to form a coalition that also included many people from non-political grassroots organizations that were interested in achieving independence.  This new coalition was called Junts pel Si (Together for Yes).

There was a third party, la CUP, which also supported independence.  But this is an anti-establishment, anti-capitalist party that did not want to align itself with the other two, particularly not with CIU.  So they ran as pro-independence on their own ticket.

The election results were as follows:
Total votes                                                      4,115,806        100%
The independence parties                               1,957,348        47.56%
Against independence                                     1,605,563        39.01%
Other (independence not on platform)             515,023         12.51%
Invalid                                                                37,873          0.92%

The results of the September elections were hotly disputed for days.  Most of the dispute came from those parties who were anti-independence and who were determined to read the results as clearly on their side, proclaiming that independence had lost.  They included PP, C’s, and PSC (the socialists).  The final party Catalunya Si Que es Pot (a coalition of Podemos, the Greens, and another left-wing party) had not taken a stand on independence in their platform.

But there were those that argued that although these were parliamentary elections, the reason behind them was to offer citizens the referendum that Spain would not allow.  These elections were a plebiscite and should not be read strictly by which parties won but by how citizens voted on the issue at hand.  They said that independence had won.

If you look at the results as the vote on a referendum, votes neither for nor against independence would be irrelevant and the results would read like this:
Total relevant votes                                         3,562,911        100%
Pro-independence (Yes)                                 1,957,348        54.94%
Against independence (No)                            1,605,563        45.06%

In favor of the latter argument that independence had won was also the critical fact that the pro-independence parties now had a majority of the seats in the Catalan parliament.

In a matter of days, the new parliament elected its president (or speaker).  This was Carme Forcadell, the former leader of the grassroots organization Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) who I wrote about in my last post.

This was quickly followed by the parliamentary declaration of the creation of the framework to start the transition towards the proclamation of the Catalan Republic. It also declared that “this Parliament and the process of democratic separation will not be subject to the decisions of the institutions of the Spanish state, and particularly of the Constitutional Court, which it considers to be delegitimitised and without competence.” 

During this time the Spanish court brought charges against President Mas and two of his ministers for having arranged the informal citizen consultation – in lieu of a binding referendum or even a non-binding referendum, neither of which the Spanish government would allow -- in November 2014.  Mas and his ministers now face the possibility of being disqualified from holding public office or even imprisoned.

Everything was moving along until the time came to invest the new president.  CUP had said all through their campaign that they would not invest Artur Mas.  Now came the time for negotiations.  These negotiations lasted for three months.  Junts pel Si proposed and/or agreed to all manner of social welfare actions for the new government, but CUP still would not agree to invest Artur Mas.  They wanted someone else.  But Junts pel Si stood firm.  Their candidate was Artur Mas.

This made sense to a lot of people.  Artur Mas was the person who had led the Catalan government to this point in its move to achieve independence.  Independence had not been his idea, but he had been the one to pick up the gauntlet and lead the way.  He is now known internationally as the representative of Catalan independence, he is intelligent, quick witted, well spoken, multi-lingual, knowledgeable, and elegant.  He may not be a leftist or anti-system, but practically speaking, he is a good man for the job ahead.

CUP wouldn’t have it.  Mas was the one who had made cutbacks to Catalan spending during the last few years.  Never mind that Catalan funds come from the Spanish government as taxes are paid directly to Madrid.  Neither Mas nor anyone else could spend money they didn’t have in the budget.  CUP said that Mas was corrupt.  This is odd because although he is probably considered to be Public Enemy Number One in Madrid, they haven’t been able to drum up any corruption charge against him.  The only thing he is accused of is disobeying the Spanish court by allowing Catalans to vote – albeit in an informal consultation that had no legal consequence.  And by most standards, voting is considered a democratic process for finding out what citizens want.  But there have been corruption charges against others in his party, and evidently, for CUP it's a matter of guilt by association.

Although Junts pel Si won 1,628,714 votes and CUP won 337,794, CUP has been able to hold up the investiture while it negotiated, although this might be a misnomer, because to negotiate means give and take, compromise one thing in order to gain another.  All sorts of social welfare considerations were agreed to but CUP would never budge on the issue of voting for President Mas.  For CUP it was a matter of take what they could get, but give nothing.  Because except for their support of Mas for president, there was nothing else for them to give.

CUP wants social justice but they have been holding up the independence process for three months with the probable conclusion of going to elections again in March.  Slowing the process down or possibly ending it with a failure in March to get enough support for independence, how does CUP hope to achieve the social justice it is demanding?  It would make more sense to pave the way for a Catalana Republic where Catalan taxes would stay in Catalunya, the PP party would no longer have any power, and the social justice they seek would be possible.  For most people, that's the point of getting independence.   

All along Junts pel Si said that Mas was their only candidate.  If he wasn’t to be invested, new elections would be held in March.  Many considered this would be an important blow to the independence movement.  For one thing, the independence politicians can’t agree on a basic political question, and for another, it will slow down the process.  Some voters are getting fed up.  Would independence win another election?  Has the movement lost steam?  No one knows and most would rather not take that risk.

Today, 3 January, CUP’s final decision was made.  They will not invest Artur Mas.  The assumption now is that there will be new elections in March. 

But I’m not sure.  I suspect that Junts pel Si would prefer not to go that route.  Independence might not win again, it might be that people will have lost faith in their leadership.  It wouldn’t be easy to break away from Spain and harder yet if the political leaders can’t work together.  Many people are fed up, others are disillusioned or don’t think it’s possible.  The mandate may have been lost.

I think it possible that, having led the political way successfully this far, Artur Mas might not want to be remembered as the stumbling block to independence.  So it wouldn’t surprise me if tomorrow or the next day we get the news that he has decided to decline his candidacy in favor of someone else.  Although it isn't clear if he did so, who would be the one to take his place.

I had bet with a friend that Mas would be invested.  I lost that bet.  I won’t be betting on my new position.  I’ll just wait and see.