June 17, 2024

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The dismantling of the ‘procés’, which can begin from now on (can, I stress) is an immense task and cannot be quick, and requires courage to get into complicated messes, places that have historically been immune to political alternations and changes of course, rooms where people have preferred not to enter so as not to get charred and where a monopoly of truth has been installed from which ‘processism’ continues to be broadcast as if nothing had happened here, in the same way that ‘pujolism’ continued to be broadcast between 2003 and 2010. Whether this task is undertaken or avoided will make the difference between giving the ‘procés’ a grand funeral or, on the other hand, arranging a discreet burial, with the possibility of resurrection when conditions permit.

Oriol Bartomeus 18/05/2024

Oriol Bartomeus is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

IMAGE: Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras / Luis Grañena

The dismantling of the ’procés’ is an immense task and will not be quick. It requires courage to get into places that have historically been immune to political alternation and that continue to emit ‘processism’.

Deciphering elections is neither easy nor simple, because many things happen in them that do not necessarily make up a coherent picture. The result of an election is generally an aggregate of unconnected things that rarely have a univocal explanation, a factor that explains everything, defeats and victories, continuities and ruptures. Thus, the most sensible thing to do (and the least tricky, as well as easy) if one wants to explain what happened in the elections to Parliament on Sunday 12 May is to make a kind of Gaudinian ‘trencadís’, something as Catalan as the ‘barretina’ or the (sadly disappeared) Mexican hats of the Ramblas.

2024 starts in 2021

Many of the things that have happened (and those that have not happened) in these elections already happened in the previous ones. It was in 2021 that the big change took place. What we have had now is, if you like, a correction of what happened then. And what happened? Mainly that the Catalan electorate became tired, which resulted in a record abstention rate (53%). It must be said that parliamentary elections, as good second-order elections, tend to attract fewer people than other elections (basically, the general elections). However, the ‘procés’ had accustomed us to spectacular turnouts, which in 2017 were close to 80%.

The ‘procés’ had accustomed us to spectacular turnouts, which in 2017 were close to 80%.

In 2021, the pandemic context did not help to sustain this mobilisation. But there is more. In fact, the pandemic ends up working as an excuse for a part of the census that does not want to go to the polling stations. 1.5 million voters stayed at home, almost half of whom had voted pro-independence in the 2017 call to the limit. Fear of contagion? Perhaps, but above all tiredness, a lot of tiredness after almost a decade of the ‘procés’. The high point was already far away, it was not perceived that the electoral result could be decisive for anything, the re-election of the pro-independence majority was taken for granted. And something else. Independence was also taken for granted. So much so that the pro-independence parties as a whole surpassed the mythical figure of 50% of the vote for the first time (52% to be exact)… and nothing happened.

Thus, the great unknown of this call was whether independence was capable of reviving that part of its base (seven hundred thousand votes no less) that had been ghosting them in 2021.

Bartleby independence

One of the things about which there is less discussion is that most of the pro-independence vote that had abstained in 2021 stayed at home on 12 May. Why they did so is another matter. But there is no doubt that they did. The turnout figures throughout the election day already gave an idea that the increase in the vote was not precisely in the most pro-independence territory. For example, in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, the PSC’s historic fiefdom, the turnout for 2021 was twice as high as in Sant Cugat, the well-to-do suburb traditionally inclined to conservative nationalism and its anti-system metamorphosis.

By the end of the count, the pro-independence parties as a whole had lost 80,000 votes. It may not seem much, but the non-independence left had gained more than 200,000, and the pro-Spanish right more than 100,000. Moreover, the key was not only what had happened on 12 May, but also that the pro-independence movement had lost an accumulated seven hundred thousand votes, of which (apparently) it had not recovered a single one.

What had happened? Quite simply, the ‘Procés’ had come to an end and the pro-independence parties had not found an equally powerful motivating element to replace it. Neither ERC’s nor Puigdemont’s proposal lifted the tired pro-independence supporters off the couch. Only one party managed to mobilise a significant segment of the vote, and that is (glups, as ‘maestro’ Martínez would say) Aliança Catalana.

A disastrously successful strategy

ERC’s debacle in these elections is tragic not only because of the result itself, as it loses almost three out of every ten voters in 2021, or more than half of those obtained in 2017 if we add the losses of 2021 and 2024. In other words, a drama. The most tragic thing, perhaps, is that the Republicans’ strategy was good, or at least not bad. Or even, it was the only possible one, which would lead us to the conclusion that, whatever it did, ERC was doomed to have a disastrous result.

Its bid to overcome the ‘procès’-bailout was based on a correct reading of the results of 2021: the base is tired, the people (its people) are fed up with the ‘procès’-bailout, and we must open up to new proposals. Hence the emphasis on the government and its policies and on the figure of President Aragonès. On paper, nothing to object to. Then comes the reality. Neither the government nor the president have pulled the cart in recent years. The figures speak for themselves. The ‘Republican Generalitat’ never took off, and so they found themselves at the gates of the elections without much material to offer their own people.

Instead, their gamble was wisely exploited by the PSC, which based its campaign on policies and government (the government’s bad policies, in fact), which turned out to be Illa’s strength.

ERC is not the PNV

The Republicans have always had a little brother complex, with all that that entails (fractious, disorganised, irresponsible, likeable but not very trustworthy).The opportunity to become the main force in government (and not a junior partner) that the 2021 results gave them allowed them to shake off the label of a childish party, and ERC bet everything on that card. The design, however, forced by circumstances (or because there was no way to get Junqueras out), was not that of a CDC-style presidential organisation, but of a two-headed model along PNV lines: Aragonès in the government, Junqueras at the head of the party. Part of Aragonès’ failure to take off as president was due to the long shadow cast over him by Junqueras. In view of this, the gamble did not work. Perhaps because the Basque model has no tradition in Catalonia, where the Pujol school of thought dictates that the president of the Generalitat must also concentrate organic power in his party (something that Maragall suffered during his time as president).Part of Aragonès’ failure to take off as president is due to the long shadow cast over him by Junqueras, to the point of forcing him to share an electoral poster. The scant presidential figure of Aragonès, moreover, contrasted with the mythical aura of a Puigdemont who did respond to the Pujolian ideal of the great, quasi-messianic leader.

What has happened in ERC after the elections starkly reveals Aragonès’ character as a fuse, as if he were a lehendakari, while Junqueras resists abandoning the party’s leadership, in the best line of Arzalluz.

Playing without a ball

If for ERC the government has not served to win the elections, quite the contrary, for Junts, not having it has given it a freedom of movement that may have been key to the final result. In football, we have lived through a period in which teams with a ball dominated, in the wake of the Cruyffist school. In fact, there are two types of team, those who want the ball and those who give it away. The former have been dominant until relatively recently. The paradigmatic example is Guardiola’s Barça. On the other hand, teams that play without the ball (which seems to be a contradiction) have become fashionable lately. Madrid is the clearest example. These teams despise possession, but the moment they get the ball they are lethal.

Junts, a party that was born to have the ball (and the goals and the little machine that draws the lines of the field and even the referees), has managed to reinvent itself to play without the ball, that is, without government. While ERC has failed in its attempt to mutate into a party of government (i.e. with a ball), Junts has been able to play as a team that plays against the grain, as if it were a Maoist group.

Many analysts predicted that Junts would not last even a year outside the institutions when it left the government (and failed to win the Barcelona City Council, and refused to enter the Diputació government). This was logical, given that Junts has historically been a party attached to an administration (that of the Generalitat).But not only has it survived, but it seems comfortable in its new role as outsider, mounting counter-attacks on the run like the best Real Madrid.

Junts knows what the business is all about

It is true that Junts is playing against the tide, but it must be borne in mind that they are the ones who invented the rules of the political game in Catalonia. The game is theirs. It has been since 1980. They defined the playing field and they can play with their eyes closed. May 12 was a glaring example. Junts dusted off the CiU handbook and showed that Catalan society still (at least some of it) responds as reliably as Pavlov’s dog.

Junts’ campaign was eighties. On the one hand, it clearly defined the functions of the government, which are to stand up to ‘Madrid’ and demand what belongs to ‘Catalonia’. And what is this? It is not known, or it is implied, there is no need to be specific. In its campaign, Junts said nothing of concrete policies, promised nothing tangible (unlike Aragonès, who presented himself with a long list of measures). Junts’ public does not need to know these details. It is necessary to ‘tighten the screws’ on the central government, it doesn’t matter what the issue is, that’s enough. This part of the electoral proposal was clearly aimed at ERC’s waterline. It was clear to Junts (and its public) that the Republicans were not capable of ‘imposing themselves in Madrid’ (the little brother syndrome again).The second part of the speech consisted of recalling that the PSC is an appendix of the PSOE and therefore will never, never, never defend Catalonia’s interests (whatever they may be). Therefore, it is not a party that can govern the Generalitat. What’s more, it would be counterproductive if it did, it would be the death of Catalonia, therefore, it must be prevented by any means necessary. How? By voting for Pujol (sorry, for Junts).

This kind of argumentation comes naturally to Junts, it is their nature. But not only. There is a not inconsiderable part of Catalan society (those in favour, and a part of those against) that has accepted this reasoning for decades. Puigdemont expressed it perfectly in his post-election act from Argelés: I will run for investiture because Catalonia can only be governed by a ‘Catalan’ force (that is, not the PSC) and I will negotiate the PSC’s harakiri with Pedro Sánchez because I understand the PSC as a simple territorial appendage of the PSOE, a ‘branch’ (a memorable finding from CiU’s 1980 campaign).

AC’s total free campaign (or ‘put a ‘facha’ on your front page’)

Sílvia Orriols’ party has been one of the surprises of election night, although its presence in Parliament had already been announced (with great fanfare) by the polls. There is something normal about the emergence and success of an extreme right-wing pro-independence force. Catalonia, as a good complex party system, has two parties of everything: two left-wing parties, one on the pro-independence side (CUP) and one not (Comuns), two centre-left (ERC and PSC) and two centre-right, although the Junts electorate has been on a ‘long march’ since 2012, which has taken it from the centre to the far-left anti-system (no joke).The emergence of Vox had left the system lame, so Aliança Catalana has come to balance it out. Now we have the two extreme right-wingers we are entitled to.

The emergence of Vox had left the system lame, so Aliança Catalana has come to balance it out.

Beyond the (yet another glups) ‘normalisation’ that Orriols’ supporters represent, with them a phenomenon that has become commonplace with this type of party has returned: the media campaign for them for free. It happened with Trump in the Republican primaries of 2015 and it has happened with practically all the ultra parties that, out of nowhere (alehop) have achieved parliamentary representation .If only the hard-working PACMA could have the coverage that these organisations get. The media’s dependence on clickbait makes them behave like tabloids, prioritising the ‘information’ that is most likely to attract the attention of a saturated reader. It is not only the intoxication media. Reputable media fall into the trap of filling their websites with shocking ‘news’ to attract readers. And the ‘faças’ are the best at this. If we add to that a poll that gives them a few seats, we already have the campaign done, and without the party in question spending a single euro. It happened with Vox and now it has happened with Aliança Catalana, which has become known to the general public thanks to clickbait and is already comfortably installed in our institutions. Of course, the same media that have promoted them (involuntarily) will be the first to veto their voice and raise a self-exculpatory anti-fascist belt. They also did it with Vox, with magnificent results in view of what we see in each election.

Orriols votes Illa

The paradox of Aliança Catalana’s result is that it may have facilitated Salvador Illa’s investiture as president. If one takes into account that most of its votes come from Junts (and others, quite a few, from new voters and abstentions), it is easy to deduce that its success has prevented Puigdemont from obtaining a number of seats that would bring him close enough to the PSC to claim the possibility of being considered (for real, not just lip service) a candidate for the investiture. It is complicated to calculate, but without Orriols in the race (or with a diminished Orriols) Junts could have won 38 seats, to 41 for the socialists, which would have made the situation much more complicated than it is now.

Don’t go yet

For paradoxes (or not so paradoxes), the debate on whether the ‘procés’ is dead or not, with the PP clinging to its corpse as if it were its widow, aware that, without the ‘procés’, part of its argument and its capacity to mobilise its space would vanish. It has always been known. The ‘procés’ has not only been of interest to pro-independence supporters. The right has always known how to take advantage of it, as it did with Maragall’s statutory reform to attack Zapatero.

Now the thing is to deny the death of the ‘procés’ and to attribute to Pedro Sánchez a perfidious interest in keeping it on life support, even facilitating Puigdemont’s presidency of the Generalitat, even if that means the ritual sacrifice of the PSC on the altar of ‘perrosanchismo’ (small detail: the Catalan socialist vote is essential for the PSOE to remain in government).

Some say that the PP is wrong to try to revive the ‘procés’, since without it it would be easier for it to count on the support of Catalan nationalism in a hypothetical majority in Congress, after new elections. The matter is more complex. Given what has been seen, the PP will not be able to count on the support of Junts in the near future, basically because the PP will continue to depend on Vox to reach the central government, and the simultaneous support of one and the other is simply impossible. The only reasonable possibility for the PP to reach government is hand in hand with Vox, and in this respect the scarecrow of the ‘procés’ does not bother, quite the contrary. The most interesting thing is that if a scenario of a PP-Vox government were to come about, the conditions could (then yes) lead to a resurrection of the ‘proces’, which would no longer be the ‘proces’ that the 12 May buried, but another, the same but different one. In the PP they know (or maybe they don’t) that the ‘procés’ was only possible with them in government.

In view of this, the PP will not be able to count on the support of Junts in the near future.

Dismantling a world

The 12th of May certified the political death of the ‘proces’ that the electoral campaign had already announced. The social death had been taking place since January 2018.However, this does not mean that there is nothing left of that period; on the contrary, the scaffolding that created the ‘procès’ in many areas is still in place. The ‘procés’ has had a very deep impact on Catalan society, to the point of modifying the way we look at ourselves and the language we use. The ‘procés’ created a world of its own, a web of meanings that for the most part is still there. Partly out of interest, because in the heat of the ‘procés’ a world of opportunities also grew for many people. Opportunities of all kinds, economic ones obviously, but not only. Opportunities for public recognition, for professional advancement. And all this is still there. But the ‘procés’ also influenced non-‘proces’ supporters who today continue to look at, to analyse, Catalonia in ‘procés’ logic, with the glasses that the ‘procés’ gave them and through which they have become so accustomed to looking at it that they have even forgotten they are wearing them.

The dismantling of the ‘procés’, which can begin from now on (can, I stress) is an immense task and cannot be quick, and requires courage to get into complicated messes, places that have historically been immune to political alternations and changes of course, rooms where people have preferred not to enter so as not to get charred and where a monopoly of truth has been installed from which ‘processism’ continues to be broadcast as if nothing had happened here, in the same way that ‘pujolism’ continued to be broadcast between 2003 and 2010. Whether this task is undertaken or avoided will make the difference between giving the ‘procés’ a grand funeral or, on the other hand, arranging a discreet burial, with the possibility of resurrection when conditions permit.

https://ctxt.es/es/20240501/Politica/46472/Oriol-Bartomeus-elecciones-Catalunya-analisis-electoral-proces-independentismo.htm

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