‘Puigdemont president’ shout his supporters in Barcelona
After being sacked by Madrid and fleeing to Belgium, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has made a stunning comeback, his supporters in Barcelona celebrating after elections handed separatist parties another majority in parliament.
“Puigdemont, president” they shout in the basement of a hotel in the Mediterranean city when the results are out just before midnight on Thursday.
Puigdemont’s Together for Catalonia list, the leftist ERC party and the tiny, anti-capitalist CUP have won 70 seats out of 135, even if they only got 47.5 percent of the votes.
They still need to agree to join forces to form a regional government, but for now, supporters are savouring the victory — a near repeat of 2015 elections.
“With this result, the message to Spain is: sit down and talk,” says Francesc Portella, 50, who works in marketing.
“And the message to Europe: open your eyes, react!”
Puigdemont himself is not there, having left for Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence on October 27, after which Madrid put the semi-autonomous region under direct rule, sacked the government and called snap elections.
“The Spanish state moved heaven and earth to destroy the independence movement but the Catalan people are way stronger and more peaceful than Spain with its batons,” says Portella.
One of the sore points for independence supporters is a referendum held on October 1 despite a court ban, which saw police brutally repress voters.
– Pessimism –
Next to him, Oriol Sanchez, 19, shouts “freedom” with more gusto than other supporters.
His father Jordi Sanchez is in jail on a charge of sedition for his role in the independence drive as leader of the civic association ANC, a strong mobiliser of those who support secession.
“He’s in prison for his ideals. I’m very proud of him and the country,” he says of Catalonia.
Puigdemont himself addresses the supporters by videolink.
“The Catalan republic won against the monarchy of the 155,” he says, referring to article 155 of the constitution that the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy used to place the region under direct rule.
Rajoy’s deputy claimed last weekend that the ruling Popular Party (PP) had “decapitated” the independence movement, with Puigdemont in Belgium and his deputy Oriol Junqueras in jail.
But the PP has fared miserably in the Catalan elections, winning just 4.2 percent of the votes.
“You can see it’s not going their way,” says Montserrat Grane, a 60-year-old civil servant.
But she remains pessimistic.
“The PP will never negotiate, it doesn’t understand negotiation, only surrender.”
Many other Catalan voters however say they are not hell-bent on independence but vote for the separatists in rejection of Rajoy’s conservative government, in power since 2011.
And whatever they do, the separatists will have to acknowledge Catalans who don’t share their dreams.
– Most seats, votes –
In fact, the party that won most seats and votes is centrist Ciudadanos, against independence, even if it remains far behind the three separatist parties combined.
A victory for the party’s young candidate Ines Arrimadas, 36, who is happy it won in “the 10 most populated cities” including Barcelona.
“Nationalist parties won’t ever again be able to speak in the name of all of Catalonia,” she told a crowd of supporters near Spain Square in Barcelona.
Still, for many of her supporters, the victory is bittersweet.
Lino Navio, a 75-year-old retiree, is not so jubilant as he waits for Arrimadas to take to a stage where smoke machines are already going and music blaring.
“We’re where we were before,” he says.
His wife quips in with one word: “disillusion.”
But there is hope among some of those who reject independence.
“A war isn’t won with just one battle,” says Ramon Duran, a 28-year-old who is unemployed.