Pro-Catalan party turns kingmaker
A small pro-independence party will play a key role in determining the next government of Catalonia after a massive boost in support at regional elections.
Elections on Sunday in Spain's largely autonomous province left no single group with an absolute majority.
But the Republican Left made huge gains and is expected to start talks on Monday with the two leading parties.
The governing conservative nationalists won 46 of the province's 135 seats, with their rivals, the socialists, winning 42.
We want the strongest pro-Catalan government possible, Josep Lluis Carod Republican Left leader
The Republican Left, which advocates independence from Spain, almost doubled its representation to 23 seats, with more than 16% of the vote.
This leaves the party in the position of kingmaker, as its support is now crucial to form a coalition government.
The Republican Left's candidate for regional president, Josep Lluis Carod, declined to say which party he might team up with.
CiU conservatives 46 - down 10
Socialists 42 - down 8
Republican Left 23 - up 11
Popular Party 15 - up 3
Greens 9 - up 4
"We want the strongest pro-Catalan government possible," he told a crowd of cheering supporters in Barcelona.
The Socialist Party of Catalonia candidate for president, Pasqual Maragall - whose party had led in opinion polls - expressed disappointment, but portrayed the results as a victory for the broad left.
His party, together with the Republican Left and the greens, would have enough seats to govern.
Neither of the leading parties advocates independence - but both want to overhaul relations with the central government.
After 23 years in power, regional president Jordi Pujol, of the Convergencia i Unio (CiU) coalition, is retiring.
The BBC's Katya Adler, in Madrid, says many Catalans though feel their identity is now threatened by immigration - mostly from North Africa and South America.
More than 80% of Catalans use their regional language in their everyday lives and the majority say they feel Catalan rather than Spanish.
One in four immigrants to Spain head for this wealthy province.
But human rights groups say the role the immigration debate has played in the run-up to elections is not a sign of anti-immigrant sentiment.
Rather, in Catalonia, it is seen as part of a determined effort to remain culturally distinct from the rest of Spain.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2003/11/17 11:06:22 GMT
© BBC MMIII
November 17, 2003
Catalonia Vote Leans Left
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Elections on Sunday in Catalonia left a minor nationalist party, the Republican Left, holding the key to control of the regional parliament.
The governing right-wing Catalán Convergence and Union Party, led by Artur Mas, won 46 seats of 135 in the election, with 99 percent of the votes counted. But the party, which has been in power in Catalonia, Spain's wealthiest region, for 23 years, does not have enough seats to govern alone.
Its main rival, the Socialist Party, led by a former Barcelona mayor, Pasqual Maragall, won 42 seats. Mr. Maragall announced that he would enter into a "progressive" coalition with minor left-wing parties.
The Republican Left, which favors a complete overhaul of relations with the central government in Madrid, won 23 seats.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Mon 17 Nov 2003
Catalonia independence party scores big gains
A PARTY advocating independence for Catalonia scored huge gains in yesterday’s local elections in Spain, emerging as kingmaker for two major parties that lost support.
The pro-independence Republican Left nearly doubled its 12 seats to 23 in the 135-member regional assembly, reflecting growing nationalist sentiment in the wealthy northeast region, which, together with the Basque country, enjoys the most autonomy among Spain’s 17 regions.
The two main parties, the Socialist Party of Catalonia and the ruling Convergence and Union coalition, both lost many seats.
With 99 percent of the votes counted late last night, Convergence and Union won 46 seats, down from 56, the Catalan government said. The Socialists fell from 52 to 42.
Neither of these two key parties won a majority of 68 seats, making the support of Republican Left essential to form a government coalition.
The other two parties in the running were prime minister Jose Maria Aznar’s Popular Party, which went from 12 to 15 seats, and an environmental party that rose from three to nine seats.
Republican Left’s candidate for regional president, Josep Lluis Carod, refused to say who his party might team up with.
"We want the strongest pro-Catalan government possible," he told a crowd of cheering supporters sipping cava.
"We will be consistent with what we have advocated all along."
The Socialist candidate for regional president, Pasqual Maragall, the former Barcelona mayor who transformed his city for the 1992 Olympic Games, expressed disappointment with his party’s score but tried to portray the results broadly as a win for the left.
His party, Republican Left, and the environmentalists together would have 74 seats, enough to govern.
Mr Maragall he said he was willing to "assume responsibilities" and negotiate the possibility of leading the next government.
"The people have spoken and voted for the forces of progress," Mr Maragall said.
Rather than outright independence, both major parties had pledged to seek a revision of the charter setting terms of autonomy for Catalonia, Spain’s economic engine contributing 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Post-poll deals key to Catalonia
From CNN Bureau Chief Al Goodman
The governing nationalist party in the important Spanish region of Catalonia beat back a challenge from the left to win the most seats in Sunday's regional election, but post-election deal making could still bring a Socialist-led coalition to power.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, the Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union Party was projected to take 46 seats in the 135-seat parliament; the Socialists, 42 seats; the Republican Left, 23; Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's ruling Popular Party, 15; and the Leftist Initiative for Catalonia, 9.
The key to forming the next regional government could be the decision of the Republican Left.
Statements from leaders of the Socialist and Republican Left parties after the vote indicated that they were considering forming a coalition that could take power from the nationalists, although no decision was expected Sunday night.
The elections mark the first time in 23 years that Catalan nationalist leader Jordi Pujol, the incumbent regional president, has not stood for office. His political retirement marks the end of an era in one of Spain's -- and Europe's -- wealthiest and most industrialized regions.
Without Pujol, the battle to govern Catalonia is seen as being between the regional Socialist leader -- Pasqual Maragall, formerly mayor of Barcelona when it hosted the 1992 Olympics -- and Pujol's appointed political successor, Arturo Mas, making his first bid for the Catalan presidency.
Some 5.3 million Catalans were eligible to vote, and turnout as of 6 p.m. (noon ET), two hours before the polls closed, was nearly 52 percent, about five points higher than at the same time in the 1999 elections.
Spain has 17 regional governments, each with their regional parliament and home-rule powers. But Catalonia and the neighboring Basque region long have presented the biggest challenge to central government in Madrid.
In the Basque region, the outlawed ETA separatist group is blamed for more than 800 deaths in a long fight for independence.
In Catalonia, Catalan nationalists and the Republican Left have both used the independence issue from time to time, while the Catalan Socialists want more home-rule powers within a federalist Spain.
Catalonia was the only one of the country's 17 regions to hold elections Sunday.
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Spain's Catalonia to Pick New Leader
Sunday November 16, 2003 5:46 PM
by SARAH ANDREWS
Associated Press Writer
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Spaniards watched closely Sunday as voters in Catalonia chose between three parties - two seeking greater autonomy and one eventual independence for the wealthy northeastern region.
Voters were picking a 135-seat legislature in a hotly contested election that will give Catalans their first new leader in almost a quarter century. Jordi Pujol, 73, has run the region since it gained limited autonomy in 1978.
Polls showed a race too tight to call between the two main parties - Pujol's conservative Convergence and Union coalition and the Socialist Party. Rather than outright independence, both have pledged to seek a revision of the 25-year-old charter setting out terms of Catalonia's autonomy.
Neither is expected to win a majority. So all eyes were on the pro-independence party Republican Left of Catalonia, whose support would be needed by either big party to form a governing coalition.
By early afternoon, turnout stood at 26 percent, up from 24 percent at the same stage in the last election, in 1999, the Catalan government said.
Next to the Basque region, Catalonia is most independent-minded of Spain's 17 regions. It's also an economic powerhouse, accounting for 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
The Spanish constitution bars secession. But Republican Left's candidate for regional president, Josep Lluis Carod, says he wants to lead the region peacefully to nationhood.
Carod complains that a region boasting everything from heavy industry to dot.com wizardry ends up financing poor regions of southern Spain through taxes it pays to the central government.
The short-term answer is to change the tax formula, but the long-term solution is to break away, Carod says.
``Catalonia is not and cannot be a flock of sheep,'' Carod said last week.
Xavi Danus, a 28-year-old salesman, said he backs the Republican Left. ``They are the only party that really cares about Catalans. The others just rob us. We don't have any faith in them.''
Pujol's hand-picked successor and candidate for regional president, Artur Mas, hasn't proven as popular as his mentor in polls.
The Socialists' candidate is Pasqual Maragall, the former Barcelona mayor who put his city on the world map by transforming it splendidly for the 1992 summer Olympics.
Ivonne Planas, a 36-year-old English teacher, said the outgoing Pujol government was obsessed by Catalonia's relations with Madrid rather than deal with the nuts and bolts of self-rule. She predicted victory for the Socialists, and maybe a coalition with Republican Left.
``It would bring new ideas to Catalonia and policy focused more on Catalonia and self-government,'' she said after voting.
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