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The Puigdemont plan: summer election or autumn election

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: “El plan de Puigdemont: elecciones en verano o elecciones en otoño”. Ignacio Varela. El Confidencial.

7th May 2018

Carles Puigdemont knows he will never again be President of Catalonia. He has realised that what awaits him over the next few years is either a Spanish prison cell or the prospect of wandering around Europe as a fugitive. Oriol Junqueras doesn’t even have the choice: he sealed his fate when he decided not to flee.

Even though he’s got secessionists, under the threat of popular stoning, chanting “either Puigdemont or Puigdemont”, in my opinion the former president has three goals:

The first, obviously, is to escape justice. And if he can humiliate the Spanish state on the European stage while he’s at it, all the better. For the time being, this is a battle he’s winning.

The second is to establish himself as the leader of the secessionist movement. The journalist Joan Tapia is right to insist that none of what has happened in Catalonia in the last few years can be understood without focusing on the hateful power struggle between Convergència and Esquerra (ERC). Ever since Pujol left office, everything has revolved around this. Every step in the Catalan secessionist process can be interpreted through the lens of this rivalry. The same goes for everything that has happened since the election of 21 December. Looking at this story solely as a secessionist challenge to the unity of Spain is akin to peering through a monocle. The view is not false, but it’s incomplete.

The news is that between the two old rivals, exhausted from so much tripping each other up, a burgeoning contender has emerged: Puigdemont. He’s willing to displace the two historic guiding lights of Catalan nationalism and do what Franco did in 1937 to the diverse conglomerate that formed the so-called National camp in the Civil War (Falangists, Carlists, Traditionalists…), or what Perón did–from his exile in Madrid–to the multiple factions of Argentinian Justicialism: one movement, one caudillo, wherever he may be. One leads and the others follow.

The third goal is to shut down any chance of Catalonia returning to the framework of the Spanish constitution. With or without independence, the aim is for Catalonia never again to be a devolved region within the Spanish state and under the rule of its law. The minimum programme is to chronify the exceptional, fan the flames of conflict and consolidate social anomie. They may not get out of Spain (for now) because they can’t, but they won’t stay in it either. This is why they’ve set up the farcical Council of the Republic in exile, the Assembly of Representatives and all the rest of it: a set of parallel institutions falling outside the rule of law. The point is to sabotage the truce sought on one side by the Spanish government and on the other by the forces of institutional secessionism (PdeCAT, successor to Convergència, and ERC) to restore a semblance of normalcy. At least until the time comes, in the words of Esquerra, for ‘the next attack on the state’.

It’s interesting to see ERC now presenting a report including reflections as sensible as these:

‘The Catalan October has not led to the birth of the Catalan republic (…) Winning over the social majority in a country involves much more than having a simple majority in a parliamentary chamber (…) 50% is not enough when the goal is for the republic to emerge through civic, peaceful and democratic means (…) Creating the Catalan republic is not an ordinary legislative decision (…) The process towards independence will be clearly multilateral; the debate on unilateralism is binary, sterile and counterproductive (…) We need to connect with the diversity of current Catalan society (…) Particularly important among the groups whose support we lack is the working class…’.

If Oriol Junqueras and his colleagues had dared, when it was their turn at bat, to say such things out loud instead of acting like political pyromaniacs, everything would have been different. He would probably be home right now rather than in a prison cell.

But I’m afraid it’s too late, because now Puigdemont is calling the shots and holding the gun. While ERC was leaking its belated report, the ex-president gathered his MPs in Berlin after sending a pompous non-invitation to his supposed allies. There, it was made abundantly clear that:

– Whether or not a president is elected is for Puigdemont to decide, and he will do so when it suits him–predictably, at the last second in overtime.

– If he unblocks the election, he’ll be the one to hand out the nomination and to dictate to the nominee his programme, his powers and even the offices he may or may not use. The vote will be a sham (yet another) and the interim president will not answer to the parliament electing him, but to the caudillo appointing him.

– Whether or not there is a snap election depends solely on the sovereign will of the leader. He will decide for everyone (not just for every one of his supporters, but for every Catalan).

– In the meantime, the role of the leaders (?) of the secessionist movement is to regale the Great Helmsman, sing his praises far and wide and submissively await his providential will.

All this for what? There’s a lot of psychotic megalomania here, but also quite a bit of political machination. Anyone paying attention will easily realise the pile of incentives Puigdemont would have to precipitate an election now. But there might be an even better scheme for his goals:

Let’s imagine that in the last moment he agrees to this parliament choosing a puppet president. This would rid them of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution (TN: which has suspended home rule), give them back control over the administrative machinery and the purse, and apparently satisfy their partners. But it would do nothing to clear up the electoral horizon. According to the Statute of Catalonia (Article 75), the regional president can only dissolve parliament once a year has passed since its last dissolution. In this case, Puigdemont’s puppet could commit before his puppetmaster to dissolve parliament and call a new election as soon as possible, that is, after 27 October.

October 2018: the first anniversary of the glorious uprising. It would coincide with the Supreme Court macro-trial against secessionist leadership–martyrdom in all its splendour. With the world press watching the trial and the masses on the streets of Barcelona, ERC would not be able to refuse a secessionist coalition led by Puigdemont, if only to block Ciudadanos from securing a new victory. This election would no longer be called by Rajoy, but by Puigdemont’s butler in the role of acting president. An unbeatable set-up for a stronger secessionist majority allowing them to keep hammering away, which is the whole point.

All thanks to Rajoy’s lethargy and the frivolity of a German judge capable in one fell swoop of destroying the spirit of European arrest warrants and of reviving a politician who had seemed finished just two days earlier. What a load of blunders.

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