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The last Spanish elections have left the outcome in the hands of two actors, whom, for the sake of simplicity, we can call Pedro Sánchez and Carles Puigdemont, each with his own party. There are two possibilities: a pact between the two actors through concessions by Sánchez for the Junts parliamentary group, led by Puigdemont, to support his investiture, or to provoke a repeat election.

Josep M. Colomer, 14 August 2023

Puigdemont and Sánchez at the Palau de la Generalitat, in March 2016 – Archivo/Àlex Garcia

The last Spanish elections have left the outcome in the hands of two actors, whom, for the sake of simplicity, we can call Pedro Sánchez and Carles Puigdemont, each with his own party. There are two possibilities: a pact between the two actors through concessions by Sánchez for the Junts parliamentary group, led by Puigdemont, to support his investiture, or to provoke a repeat election.

Both actors would prefer the first of these two outcomes, but it would require mutual confidence that the other would do its part. In particular, Puigdemont may be wary that, if he votes for investiture, the new Frankenstein government could then delay the implementation of concessions. If these were of the regional funding reform type, the transfer of suburban trains and the like, they could take several months or perhaps years and would always entail uncertainty over their fulfilment.

If I may be technical, the interaction can be modelled as a prisoner’s dilemma. Game theory teaches that such situations often produce conflict outcomes that are bad for both parties. In the game metaphor, each of the two prisoners is isolated in his cell, does not trust the loyalty of the other and, just in case, denounces each other, resulting in both receiving a greater penalty than if they had cooperated.

However, mutually beneficial cooperation is not impossible. The current interaction between Sánchez and Puigdemont is formally the same as that between Rajoy and Puigdemont in October 2017. That failed because there was no direct communication between the parties and mutual distrust prevailed. As in the prisoner’s dilemma, the two actors obtained a worse result than they would have obtained if Rajoy had abstained from suspending autonomy and Puigdemont had kept “the effects of the declaration of independence suspended” and called elections to the Parliament. But neither trusted the other.

Rajoy had a well-founded fear that, if he refrained from applying Article 155, Puigdemont would have even more incentive to dodge the accusations of traitor and the 155 silver coins and confirm his unilateral declaration of independence. Puigdemont, in turn, feared that, even if he called elections that same afternoon, the Senate, with an absolute majority of the PP, would still approve the suspension of autonomy because everything was already prepared, as Rajoy confirmed in his memoirs.

The way out would not be to repeat the elections, but to bring forward the Catalan elections and allow Puigdemont to stand.

The current situation is not so pressing because it is possible to reflect, negotiate, reach an agreement and make decisions over several weeks. The key question is what kind of concessions can give confidence to both actors that they will not be swindled by the other and that both will do their part.

Junts could give a confident vote of support to Sánchez’s investiture if the concessions were legally concrete and there was no room for backtracking in their execution. Promises on the transfer of powers and finances alone do not fulfil this condition. They would fulfil it if an agreement were included prior to Sánchez’s investiture for the president of the Generalitat to call elections to the Catalan Parliament, which would be held, as always, 54 days later, in which, in contrast to the two most recent Catalan elections, Puigdemont could stand as a candidate.

Legally, Puigdemont could campaign remotely as long as he was not tried and convicted, as he did in the elections in which he was elected MEP. If elected, he could return from exile with his new immunity as a Catalan MP. For an expedited procedure, there are doubts of legal interpretation and judicial holidays, but, given some precedent and the political risk of deadlock, a crafty accommodation could be found.

In short: the best way out would not be repeated Spanish elections, which neither of the two actors prefers, but, following Junts’ vote for Sánchez’s investiture, early Catalan elections with no restrictions on candidacies. Critics of the right to self-determination often say that this is already regularly exercised through democratic elections with the possibility of voting for pro-independence parties and that a referendum is not necessary. Proponents of the right of self-determination should dare to accept this approach and the binding outcome of such elections.

https://www.lavanguardia.com/opinion/20230814/9166332/dilema-exiliado.html

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