14 May, 2024 @ 11:30
2 mins read

Catalunya chaos: President to step down after separatist party’s poor showing at local elections – while Puigdemont vows to form his own government in fresh headache for Pedro Sanchez

Both Socialists and separatists have announced their intention to form a government

THE incumbent Catalan president Pere Aragones has announced he will step down from frontline politics in the wake of a disappointing performance for his separatist Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC) party in last Sunday’s regional election.

Aragones, 41, had been forced to call a snap election in March after a budget proposal from his minority government was voted down by opposition parties.

In a press conference on Monday afternoon, the former lawyer confirmed he would stand down as an MP after his pro-independence left-wing ERC party came third having lost 13 seats in comparison with the 2021 regional election.

He said: “I will facilitate a transition from the acting sitting government until a new president is named. We will continue to serve the country until this transition is done. I will also facilitate a transition within the ERC from my role as National Coordinator to close this electoral cycle of bad results and contribute to a new cycle of growth”.

READ MORE: Catalunya elections: Separatists lose majority as pro-unity Socialists win most votes in blow for independence movement

Pere Aragones announced he would leave frontline politics at a post-election press conference on Monday. Credit: Cordon Press

Aragones said it had been a ‘tough legislature’ following issues related to Covid-19, the worst drought on record and the ongoing independence push, but insisted his party was ‘leaving Catalunya in a better position than when we arrived’, citing increased foreign investment, higher exports and more teachers and healthcare workers.

Aragones also said that his ERC party would stay in opposition, dealing a harsh blow to the hopes of the Catalan Socialists (PSC) who, despite coming first in Sunday’s ballot with 42 seats, need the support of other parties to reach the 68 votes that would constitute a working majority within Catalunya’s regional parliament, known as the Generalitat. 

Experts had suggested that the Catalan branch of Pedro Sanchez’s PSOE party, led by former health minister Salvador Illa, could form a government with the support of the ERC and the far-left Comuns Sumar alliance, which won six seats.

The announcement that the ERC will go into opposition may force the Socialists to rely on the support of their arch rivals, the conservative Partido Popular (PP) who won 15 seats following a resurgence. 

Salvador Illa (left), with Pedro Sanchez (right). Credit: Cordon Press

Carles Puigdemont, the controversial former Catalan president who has lived in exile since the 2017 unilateral declaration of independence, suggested in a press conference on Monday that his hardline pro-independence Junts party, who came second with 35 seats, would be able to amass a ‘larger and more coherent’ majority than the Socialists.

Speaking from his campaign base in Argeles, southern France, Puigdemont said that a government led by Salvador Illa would have 48 MPs, whilst a government led by himself would have a ‘minimum of 55 and a maximum of 59’.

He expressed his willingness to ‘rebuild bridges’ with the ERC, the other leading pro-independence party in the region, adding that ‘we want to provide Catalunya with a functioning government that stands up to Madrid and avoids a new election’.

He told his supporters: “There are certain options to gather enough votes and move forward with a legislature where we have a lot of work to do”.

Carles Puigdemont claims his Junts party would be able to form a ‘more coherent’ government. Credit: Cordon Press

One method Puigdemont could use to extract support would be to use his party’s seats in the national Congress to force the Socialist party to abstain from a vote on his investiture.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s unstable coalition government relies on the support of Junts to pass legislation, leading to the controversial amnesty law which grants pardons to convicted Catalan separatists, including Puigdemont.

Threatening to remove support at a national level may force Sanchez’s hand and allow Puigdemont to return as President of Catalunya.

If no agreements are reached after weeks of negotiations, then the region may be forced to head to the polls once again to break the deadlock. 

Ben Pawlowski

Ben joined the Olive Press in January 2024 after a four-month stint teaching English in Paraguay. He loves the adrenaline rush of a breaking news story and the tireless work required to uncover an eye-opening exclusive. He is currently based in Barcelona from where he covers the city, the wider Catalunya region, and the north of Spain. Send tips to [email protected]

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