ISABEL GARCIA PAGAN, BARCELONA 08/16/2020
Quim Torra on the roof of Palau de la Generalitat (Pedro Madueño)
Holding elections on October 4 is discarded due to the absence of Quim Torra, each weekend becomes an unknown that keeps all Catalan parties, including “Junts” the party of Carles Puigdemont, “pending of president’s decision” until next Monday. “Will he call elections tomorrow?” is the unanswered question within the Government. Although the president could also limit himself to announce a November date taking advantage of an interview. Everything is possible in Torra’s “bubble”, they argue both “JxCat” and “ERC”.
Exploding the calendar: the president’s resistance
The will of the president to call elections and hold them while he is in power is known by the members of the Government. Fitting that claim within judicial calendar would force them to be placed before the Supreme Court rule on his disqualification. The hearing is scheduled for September 17 and Manuel Marchena is not expected to spend more than two weeks to resolve.
From there, the clash of strategies is served. ERC has been left out of the game between the Palau de la Generalitat and Waterloo. “We are prepared,” they say. Puigdemont does not want elections now and, to convince President Torra not to rush, what he suggests – even with members of his war room – is that the judicial battle should not end in the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court, but that it will have much more long haul in the EU justice if the ruling leads to elections that have not been called by the president. Torra will not go on the lists of Junts nor does he have more political pretensions, so for the postconvergents the “ideal scenario”, electoral and judicial, is that they disqualify him before signing the decree.
“Junts” pending list: from Borràs to Puigneró, passing through …
The decision on the date also has an internal determining factor. Torra is the maximum supporter of Laura Borràs, and wants her to be the effective candidate of “Junts” but Puigdemont resists repeating the operation of putting an uncontrolled independent in front of the Government in case of victory. The JxCat spokeswoman in Madrid is awaiting the investigation of the Supreme Court for allegedly granting finger contracts from the “Institució de les Lletres Catalanes”, in July she refused to testify and a candidacy and resignation to the seat of Congress would stop the judicial investigation and would place it in the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia. If the vote of the “Junts” executive served as a reference for a primary: Borràs was the most voted, behind Puigdemont, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Turull.
Meanwhile, in the group of aspirants of the new Puigdemont party, Jordi Puigneró promotes himself with the label of “preferred” of the former president and Damià Calvet has put his experience and support on the table ready to fight, while Marta Madrenas and Elsa Artadi “go behind”… The new vice president of “Junts” dismisses herself but the background is changing. At ERC, the debate between Pere Aragonès and Roger Torrent was resolved months ago. The vice president has slowed down the institutional agenda and fills it these days with acts attacking the monarchy. It is about improving their awareness rates among the electorate. Meanwhile, Torrent would be guaranteed a prominent place on the list for Barcelona.
Partners and enemies: three candidates in the Sala Tàpies
The relationship between “Junts” and PDECat will be resolved in the coming days and may even affect the Government. Puigdemont has discarded the electoral alliance with his previous party and David Bonvehí’s leading team is willing to go to the elections alone. They have been working on that scenario for weeks and the electoral machine has been reinforced. Marc Castells, mayor of Igualada, was one of the options to top the PDECat list but all roads lead to Mª Àngels Chacón. The regional Minister of Business is ready to play the game without leaving office encouraged by economic agents. If Puigdemont does not want to break the PDECat card, even less will he urge Chacón to leave the Ministry, although no one hides the discomfort. And if the break with “Junts” is clear, not so much the reconciliation with the PNC of Marta Pascal.
Although the image that can contradict the most is that of an Executive Council in which three electoral candidates can sit for two months – depending on who is elected in “Junts” – in full competition. The Government is in crisis and can say goodbye without changes despite the pressure on Interior. Miquel Buch has survived three requests for the resignation of the president and gave way in “Junts”, since he is not part of the executive. The Government laments Torra’s “fierceness” with Buch, who has resisted everything. Anyone who does not think of leaving office when his candidacy is made official is Aragonès, even less so when a sentence of the Supreme Court convicting Torra can transfer the powers of the presidency to him while there is no relief.
Without ability to maneuver: a government without a majority and fighting
The calendar is unknown, as is the number of candidacies originating from the Convergència-CDC. What is clear is that the Government does not have a guaranteed majority neither in the Parliament, nor even within the Executive. In the plenary session on the monarchy, JxCat and ERC divided the vote in a resolution that demanded that Catalan Government be represented in the case of 3% of former President Pujol, and in the previous session of the permanent deputation the opposition overturned a decree law to harmonize the minimum vital income with the guaranteed Catalan income. The appearance this week of regionals ministers Chakir el Homrani and Josep Bargalló for the dining room cards was also imposed. The confrontation between partners was limited until now to the Parliament but it is no longer hidden in the activity of the Government. “And if there are not, they are sought.” The Agència de la Natura, the bill to limit rental prices, the war in the government of media council CCMA … The Government has disputed the capitalization of the new appointment of Josep Maria Argimon as Health Secretary, who comes out at each press conference, and even who was the first to criticize the monarchy.
The division went further with the judge’s order that points to CDC and PDECat for the 3% judicial case. There the tug of war was four-way. ERC with its “clean hands”, Torra – “evidently I persecute corruption” -, puigdemont people – “I do not care about the 3%” – just annoyed by the electoral echo, and the part of JxCat with roots in the PDECat still living with demons of the past. The Parliament has approved to urge the Government to appear in the case and Torra ordered by letter to the head of the legal services, Francesc Esteve – his offices are on the same floor of the Palau -, to intervene as a private accusation before the National Court to find out if the Generalitat was harmed. ERC marks the letter as a loan from the president, but it remains to be seen how the order is executed.
The parliamentary front: the three denials of the ‘apostle’ Torrent, president of Parliament
There is also, at the moment in the inkwell, the complaint against the “Royal House” that Torra entrusted to his lawyers – not to the legal services of the Generalitat -. “An occurrence”, coincide JxCat and ERC. The decision to force a plenary session on the monarchy and the controversy over the veto of the lawyers to the publication of the rejection of the King are “fireworks”, they admit in JxCat, but enough to try to expose the president of Parliament, Roger Torrent , and rebound punish ERC. The strategy is none other than to take advantage of the situation to show the “three denials” of Torrent to JxCat, as if he were the “Apostle Peter”. Not to invest in Puigdemont. No to keeping Torra’s seat. Not to disapprove of the monarchy. The position of the lawyers was foreseen but it was aimed at Torrent. Then came what even “Junts” consider a “scandalous interference” by the president to demand the dismissal of the secretary general of the Chamber, Xavier Muro.
In ERC they argue that the “warmongering rhetoric” of JxCat “only aims to go against us, not to achieve independence.” “They want to win and they do it by attacking us and the Comuns. They are only interested in confrontation ”, they conclude.
Condemned to understand each other: no alternative of pacts
Despite the incompatibility of characters, the weekly appointments of members of “Junts” and ERC are maintained. It is “a consolidated space for dialogue” with people trusted by Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras in which, for now, the diagnosis of the situation is hardly shared. Each meeting begins with “an hour of reproach”, as confirmed by those present, by a tweet or a statement.
Having ruled out an alliance with the PSC in advance, ERC assumes that it will have to come to terms with “Junts”, so it intends to arrive at the campaign with a minimal roadmap on how to advance in the independence process. “How to continue what began in 2015”, they point out in “Junts”, and warn that “it is not a question of proclaiming the Spanish republic, but the Catalan one.” They also want a programmatic prologue for a future Government before even facing a division of responsibilities with which clashes that have nothing to do with day-to-day management are avoided. In the surroundings of Puigdemont they share the reflection: “It would be good to have a document of objectives and measures and the national sphere well tied”.
The impossible binomial: combining confrontation and dialogue
ERC is clear about the path it wants to follow. If after the elections the independence movement has achieved more than 50% of the votes, the objective is to negotiate with the Sánchez Government an amnesty and “see if it can go further”, in reference to a consultation. If that magic number is not reached, they choose to turn “from the 48% pro-independence to the more than 50% who sign up for the consultation.” That’s where the Comuns come in.
In “Junts” there is no single strategic line. They do maintain that the ERC plan with the dialogue table “has failed”, although they are in favor of “refloating” that space for negotiation between governments. However, they prefer “to put in contradiction a State model that cannot be endured”, hence they exploit the “monarchy-Catalan republic” dichotomy. And wait for the “perfect storm”. The next legislature “will not be that of the DUI”, they acknowledge, but they also insist that “if the conditions are met, they must be taken advantage of.” “If ERC prefers to act as a crutch for the PSOE, they will face us,” they conclude.
Republicans are further away from Pedro Sánchez every day, the revocation of the semi-release of the 1-O prisoners, the rapprochement with Ciudadanos and the real controversy, which will feed throughout the fall, make understanding “every day more difficult.” In addition, at ERC headquarters they also calculate the cost of turning the ship while already feeling Puigdemont’s breath in the surveys.
The presidency, the annex and the consolation prize
The rivalry of post-convergents and republicans is not hidden, nor is the conviction that, regardless of who comes first, if they want to govern they must do so together. There are even dialectical duels between the teams on both sides over the unwritten rules of the division of tasks. Whoever wins gets the presidency of the Generalitat, and the second, that of the Parliament. And the party that assumes the Presidency also has to stay with the Interior Ministry. “The best and the worst always go together”, they recall at the Consell Executiu. From there, everything is small print and not necessarily public, as in the agreement still in force that grants the vice president an office in Palau de la Generalitat, but not the ability to make public use of the rest of the building’s premises in Plaça Sant Jaume.