Divided Catalonia gears up for regional election | world news | Hindustan Times
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Divided Catalonia gears up for regional election

There are several political parties who will contest the elections, but they more or less fall into two categories — pro-independence and pro-unionist. And neither side gets along with the other.

world Updated: Dec 20, 2017 18:37 IST
Kartikeya Ramanathan
Kartikeya Ramanathan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Catalonia election,Spain politics,Catalonian referendum
People wait for the start of the center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) final campaign meeting for the upcoming Catalan regional election on Monday.(AFP)

The Spanish province of Catalonia is set to go to polls on Thursday, in the backdrop of the worst political turmoil that the country has seen in decades.

The trouble started in October, when the Catalan regional government held what Spain called an illegal referendum for independence. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy cracked down on the “illegal vote”, saying the referendum went against the Spanish constitution.

He sent in police to clamp down on the region, fired the top Catalan officials and dissolved the regional parliament, and transferred all authority over the area to the central government.

The Rajoy government also set December 21 as the date for elections to a new cabinet.

There are several political parties who will contest the elections, but they more or less fall into two categories — pro-independence and pro-unionist. And neither side gets along with the other.

“There are two big political blocs — one wants independence from Spain, the other wants to remain part of the Spanish union. The race will be close, and everything will remain on a knife’s edge,” Bernat Torres, who is studying economics at the University of Barcelona, told Hindustan Times.

“People are tired. We’ve been going through this for a while. There’s a massive gap of comprehension between the two sides. It’s like they have parallel dialogues. One will never concede the point of the other,” Babette Pages Prange, who hails from Barcelona but is currently based in Madrid, told HT.

Experts predict no group will win a majority in the regional parliament.

At the same time, these elections are not a referendum. It will merely dictate who the Rajoy government will negotiate with.

On the eve of the election, an eerie calm seems to have descended on the streets of Barcelona — the region’s biggest city.

“The city is calm, and people are going about their business. There is hardly any tension on the streets —the only way one would know that an election is on is because of the flags — either the Spanish one or the Catalonian one,” Torres said.

“I think the biggest factor is because most people have already decided who they want to vote for.”

Independence from Spain has been a long-standing demand in Catalonia — its people have a language, culture and tradition that is distinct from the rest of Spain. And Rajoy’s actions may have inadvertently ensured that people who were undecided about the vote now know where they stand.

“The police crackdown was an eye-opener for many people because I don’t think European democracies had seen violence like that in recent years. That will be an important card that the pro-independence political parties have,” said Torres.

“I want to vote for independence because I don’t believe in the Spanish political system anymore and I don’t believe there is a future in it anymore. There is rampant corruption and it feels like they are stuck in the 1978 regime,” said Prange.