Regional elections in Catalonia
The autonomous region is electing a new regional parliament at the peak of the 3rd wave of the Corona pandemic in Spain. As is usual here, the elections will be referred to "14-F" by the acronym of the election date. Last September, the country's Supreme Court had upheld a ruling from a previous instance that barred incumbent Catalan Prime Minister Quim Torra from holding any public office for a year and a half, immediately removing him from office. He had violated conditions imposed by the electoral authority. His deputy Pere Aragonès then became acting prime minister and called new elections, which were finally scheduled for 14-F 2021.
Polls predict a victory - a narrow one, depending on the institute - for the Catalan Socialists, who are running with Salvador Illa, the former health minister in the national government in Madrid, as their leading candidate. Sending the popular Catalan - who leads the personal voter preference by a wide margin - from Madrid to his homeland to win the election could thus be worthwhile for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's Spanish Social Democracy. The PSC, as the Catalan Socialists call themselves (Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya; "Socialist Party of Catalonia"), as the strongest force would be a great success, even if the sudden change at the top of the Spanish Ministry of Health caused wonder among some observers in view of the pandemic.
Various government options conceivable
However, the demoscopic love horoscope is not yet able to predict whether the Socialists will also be involved in forming a government or whether the divorce lawyers - i.e. the independence advocates who would rather see Catalonia secede from Spain sooner rather than later - will spoil their Valentine's Day. Two possible constellations are conceivable:
First, a re-election of the current left-wing nationalist government is possible under the leadership of "JxC" (Junts per Catalunya; "Together for Catalonia"), the alliance of former Prime Minister Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels and is now an MEP there. ERC (Esquerra Republica de Catalunya; "Republican Left of Catalonia") would also be on board again, on whose support Pedro Sánchez and his minority government in Madrid depend. But ERC, like JxC, could also win the elections in the last few meters and would also be indispensable for the second option, a tripartite alliance of Socialists, Esquerra and En Comú Podem ("Together we can"), the latter in turn a left-wing alliance that includes the left-wing populist party Unidos Podemos ("Together we can"), which also governs in Madrid. The necessary economic expertise, especially in view of the Covid crisis, apart from that of the PSC, is sorely lacking in this complicated situation. The autonomous region of Madrid, which has outperformed Catalonia in every important economic indicator for years with its liberal economic policy, shows how things can be done better. Besides, the Covid crisis of the economy has long been accompanied by the “Brexit effect” of the paralyzing debates about the independence of the region.
Liberals face challenges in their political home
The situation is also complicated for the FNF's liberal partner party, Ciudadanos ("Citizens"). While in 2017 they were still the strongest force in the regional parliament and currently have 36 seats, the polls currently predict a maximum of 13 seats. The elections in her political homeland are the most important test for Inés Arrimadas since her election as the new leader of the Ciudadanos party almost a year ago. Under her leadership, they have tried harder to re-establish themselves as a centrist force following their devastating electoral defeat in November 2019, when the fledgling party was cut back from 57 to 10 deputies in the Spanish Congress. Current demoscopic data from Catalonia prove that this path is not an easy one, but it is the right one. The Catalan Socialists will probably take 30% of the voters away from Ciudadanos on 14-F. This clearly indicates that Ciudadanos is competing with the traditional parties to the right and left of the center (and is not a new "right-wing" formation, which some media are making it out to be), even if voter migration this time is to their disadvantage.
As a centrist option, they would once again become the second strongest force after the Socialists among the "Constitucionalistas" (who, as parties loyal to the Constitution, oppose Catalan independence) and the strongest party that could not be classified as left wing or left nationalist. The slogan of the PP (Partido Popular; "People's Party"), "Yes we Cat," is a source of sympathy for the author of these lines and his feline residents, but it does not seem to have made the decisive breakthrough with voters - because things look bleak for the Catalan offshoot of the Spanish conservatives ("People's Party"). As in the past, only three to four parliamentary seats are forecast, which means that the PP is likely to end up well behind the right-wing populist formation Vox ("Voice"), which is running in Catalonia for the first time and could win six to eight seats.
Elections in times of Corona - tense atmosphere
Heated atmosphere characterizes the week before the vote, especially at Vox campaign events; riots broke out at appearances by national celebrities on Sunday, injuring several police officers. Clashes of this kind are probably the last thing the authorities and health system need now, given the epidemiological situation in the country. The pandemic situation is also possibly responsible for the fact that preliminary election results will not be published until the days following the vote. Many citizens who have been assigned functions at polling stations have requested not to fulfill this democratic civic duty, citing Covid-19, or have fallen ill. This could lead to polling stations not being sufficiently staffed and that consequently many people could not be able to cast their vote. As a precautionary measure, the "Generalitat" (the institutions of Catalan self-government) has announced that it will not publish any results if a larger number of Catalans are prevented from voting on Valentine's Day against this background (it must be done no later than 48 hours). This is to prevent tactical voting by "latecomers". Overall, this is not the prospect of a festive day of democracy, but rather a compulsory exercise with obstacles in difficult times.