The 21 December 2017 Catalan elections took place in the most unusual of circumstances. The main candidates of the two leading pro-independence parties were in prison and in exile. The election itself had been called by the Spanish government after suspending Catalan autonomy. Rajoy’s gamble was that after he beheaded the leadership of the independence movement, the Catalan people would see the light. They would do so upon discovering that independence aspirations elicited little support internationally and realising that the Catalan economy was facing serious troubles, including the relocating of many company HQs out of Catalonia. They would also be woken up by a perfect media storm in which Spanish broadcasters lambasted the separatists at length all day long while Catalan media were gagged.
The ballot box, however, has returned a verdict that leaves things broadly unchanged. The increase in participation from 75% to 82% was expected to be the result of a greater mobilisation of the Spanish unionist vote. To an extent this has occurred. Spanish “constitutionalist” parties have increased their vote share from 39.1% in 2015 to 43.5% in 2017. The independence camp, however, has also increased its total number of voters in line with the increase in voter turnout, and as a percentage of total votes has dropped only from 47.7% to 47.5%. The remainder of votes go basically to Ada Colau’s/Podemos party CeC-Podem, who are in favor of a referendum and a negotiated solution, but lean more towards Catalonia remaining in Spain. They have dropped from 8.4% to 7.4%. The independence movement hoped that these elections might have served to ratify the proclaimed republic, but fell short. They did however defeat the constitutionalist/unionist camp which supported the application of article 155 and the suspension of self-rule. The parties that made up the deposed Catalan government (ERC and JxCat) improved their overall result within the pro-independence camp, to the detriment of anti-capitalist CUP, with their share rising from 39.5% to 43% and on the unionist side Ciudadanos, rising from 17.9% to 25.3% concentrated all additional votes, in addition to those that left the Popular Party which is on its way to becoming extinct in Catalonia, with a mere 4.2%.
In terms of parliamentary representation, the pro-independence camp retains a slightly reduced majority of seats 70, as opposed to 72, while the constitutionalists have increase theirs from 52 to 58. Exiled president Puigdemont, who is to be detained if he returns to Spain has come up on top as the most voted candidate in the pro-independence camp, closely followed by jailed VP Junqueras. They both face charges of rebellion which carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison.