Thursday, November 02, 2006

The People Have Spoken....But Not Very Clearly

Those with a liking for really complex electoral politics will probable feel a little disappointed by the result of yesterday’s elections in Cataluña. In the end the formation of the next government in the region is going to depend on the left leaning nationalists of Esquerra Republicana (ERC). As predicted by the opinion polls, the right wing nationalists of Convergència I Unió (CiU) have emerged as the biggest party with a clear advantage over the Catalan socialists (PSC). However, CiU still fall well short of a majority, and need to form a coalition if they want to govern; something they can achieve with the support of ERC alone, so at least they are spared the humiliating prospect of having to bargain with anti-nationalist parties. The nationalist vote has not changed significantly, the 2 seats gained by CiU are balanced by the 2 that ERC have lost.

The big losers of the election have been the PSC, 5 seats down in the regional parliament and with their lowest vote for over 10 years. The seats they have lost probably went to Iniciativa per Catalunya (ICV) to the left of them, who gained 3, and to the new anti-nationalist party Ciutadans, who enter the parliament for the first time with 3 seats. The Partido Popular are down 1 seat as well, probably due also to the emergence of Ciutadans (who El Mundo are today treating as if they have won the elections). The outgoing 3 party coalition between the socialists, Iniciativa and ERC could also be repeated again, which is why it is ERC that really hold the key to what happens next.

In reality there has been no very significant shift in voting patterns, but the two parties with hard thinking to do are the PSC and ERC. In the case of the PSC it looks as if their shift towards a more Catalanist position during their time in office has proved costly, they have lost votes to the left and from that sector of their support that does not identify itself strongly with Cataluña. This would not be such a problem if they could attract nationalist voters, but there is no sign that this has happened. The bad result has come despite a new face as candidate, and with a strong involvement in the campaign from Zapatero, who is generally popular in Cataluña.

ERC are in the position of being the kingmakers, but are going to have to make a choice which has profound implications for the future direction of the party. Their impressive increase in support over the last few years has gone into reverse, and if they show a preference for putting the conservative nationalists of CiU back into power then their pretensions to be seen as something more than just another nationalist party will disappear. They will just confirm themselves as Option B for nationalist voters. On the other hand, their nationalist stance requires that any alliance with the non-nationalist parties of the left brings benefits for their positions. They are in a position of strength for negotiating their support, but at the same time the soul of the party could disappear as a result of the process. If ERC try to ask for too much from both of the larger parties, there is also the possibility of a super-coalition between Convergència and the PSC.


Daniel said...

Interestingly ERC admitted that the reasoning behind their pact with PSC and ICV in 2003 was to ensure that there were nationalists in government and nationalists in opposition, which is quite a nifty little strategy. This may be their preferred option again, but whether ZP is willing to let it happen and face the prospect of sacrificing votes in Burgos, Andalusia etc. is another matter.

Graeme said...

I'm not so sure that a repetition of the coalition with ICV and ERC would be that damaging for the government in the rest of Spain. The PP have been demonising Carod-Rivora and ERC for so many years now I imagine the effect is limited, especially with the autonomy statute debate out the way.

The problem would be what they have to promise to ERC now to get them to join the government, and how that affects their ability to change the image that the Catalan government has for their own supporters. The big losers of the coalition have been the PSC. It might even do them more good in the long run to force ERC and CiU to govern together, because propping up a CiU led coalition isn't going to help them much either. There are a lot of factors for all involved, the dance is a little bit complicated.

Evaristo said...

It is indeed quite complicated. The three options have pros and cons for all involved parties: CIU+ERC would damage ERC more than CIU; PSC+ERC+ICV is great for ICV and ERC, and more problematic for PSOE than for PSC, although I agree that the price for that "mistake" has already been paid; CIU+PSC would probably be better for PSOE than for PSC.

I have to admit that I have no idea of what's going to happen. But I will give it a try: I prefer CIU+PSC, but I think it's going to be PSC+ERC+ICV. And why not? Let's give them a second chance.

That said: according to Murphy it will become CIU+ERC ;)