Artur Mas, the Catalan president, was both clear winner and biggest loser in regional elections on Sunday, leaving his march towards statehood up in the air and ushering in years of messy strife with Madrid. “The next independent country within Europe,” as separatist posters across this stateless nation had billed Catalonia, will have to wait, and the region’s 7.5 million inhabitants risk being thrown into a bitter, confrontational internal debate. Mas’s Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist coalition lost a fifth of its deputies in the 135-seat regional parliament, but its 50 deputies are still twice as many as any other party has. No one else can form a government and Mas can, in theory, choose between three partners to prop up the CiU.
The clearly separatist Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) doubled its representation to 21 seats and is his most likely partner minority government. ERC will try to stiffen his separatist spine, but must battle against those in the CiU coalition who would rather put the issue on the back burner.
The socialists and the local branch of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s party (PP) could also each provide enough deputies to guarantee him a stable government, but would not give him the backing he wants to drive the sovereignty issue forward.
The surge in support for ERC was proof of growing polarisation. It was mirrored by the rise of the anti-separatist Citizens party, which tripled its number of deputies from three to nine. Both results are a sign of a new and difficult social reality in Catalonia. The