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November 26, 2012 8:59 pm
The president of Catalonia vowed to push ahead with a vote on independence after a regional election delivered a clear majority in favour of pro-referendum forces but dealt a blow to his ruling nationalist party.
Artur Mas, whose Convergència i Unió lost a fifth of its seats in Sunday’s poll, said it was “more likely” than before that the region would hold a vote on secession from Spain after pro-referendum parties won 87 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament.
A disappointing result for CiU, whose seat tally fell from 62 to 50, was widely interpreted in Spain as a blow to the authority of Mr Mas, who gambled on a snap election after 1.5m Catalans took to the streets in September in favour of independence.
But Mr Mas said he would press ahead with the vote. “We have a very clear mandate for the next four years,” he said. “Support is very clear and we have a big majority. The consultation [referendum] will take place in the next four years, we will keep our promise.”
On Monday Esquerra Republicana (ERC), a leftwing separatist party that doubled its tally of seats to become the second-biggest group in the regional parliament, began to lay out its demands for co-operation with CiU.
As well as insisting that CiU stick to its campaign pledge on a referendum, Oriol Junqueras, ERC leader, called for a softening of the region’s austerity programme. Mr Junqueras indicated that his party could lend its weight to an independence vote but without joining CiU in a formal coalition: Mr Mas has said his party would be open to working with others.
However, CiU’s loss of seats has raised questions about how it will govern the economically important region and whether Mr Mas has a mandate to go ahead with a referendum – even though the surge in support for ERC could give him the necessary momentum.
Politicians from Spain’s ruling centre-right Popular party attacked Mr Mas on Monday, saying his gamble of calling a snap election had failed and dealt a severe setback to Catalonia’s independence movement.
José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain’s foreign minister, said the election result was “a good result for Catalonia, Spain and Europe”. María Dolores Cospedal, general secretary of the Popular party, said the result showed how “the political strategy of Artur Mas has been a fiasco”.
While the government of Mariano Rajoy celebrated the result as a victory, others argued that the weakening of the moderate nationalism of the CiU combined with a surge in support for the more radical ERC could increase secessionist pressures.
Apart from ERC, which increased its share of seats from 10 to 21, the environmentalist ICV, which is not nationalist but has indicated support for a referendum, rose from 10 to 13. The CUP, a new independence party, won three seats.
The Popular party increased its number of seats by one to 19, its best Catalonia result in terms of seats, while the Catalan Socialist party mirrored losses seen in other regional elections by dropping from 28 to 20 seats.
Ciutadans, an anti-separatist party, rose from three to nine seats.
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