Hundreds of thousands of protestors filled the streets of Barcelona this weekend to demand the release of separatist leaders who were arrested following the region’s attempted split from Spain.
“Your light reaches us in Brussels and illuminates the path we must keep following,” tweeted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Brussels last month to escape sedition charges.
The Catalan government announced independence on October 27th, prompting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to use “the nuclear option” to seize control of the region. The Spanish government effectively dissolved Catalonia’s parliament and locked up eight former members of the region’s government.
The upcoming election, scheduled for December 21st, will be a test of strength between pro-separatist and pro-unionist forces in Catalonia. Opinion polls show that pro-independence parties will win a big portion of the vote, but the movement is starting to fracture.
The Catalan National Assembly is calling for all separatist forces to commit to a single ticket. Despite support from Puigdemont, success seems unlikely.
One potential candidate, Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, is currently behind bars. Another potential candidate, Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, was released from prison with a promise to renounce the independence movement.
“Those terms threaten to undermine the independence movement just as cracks are starting to appear and tensions rise between the grassroots and their leaders,” reports Reuters.
The core unionist strategy is likely to take the form of a fear campaign.
Voters will be bombarded with the message that secession will lead to job loss and economic disaster. The specific goal here will be to convince people who don’t vote into casting a vote that will help save the region.
“Economic blackmail will include the refusal to return home by the 1,800 firms that have shifted their headquarters out of Catalonia since early September, a decline in tourist bookings, and a drop in foreign investment due to an uncertain political outlook,” reports GreenLeft.
Whatever happens on December 21st, it is likely to be one of the dirtiest elections we have seen in modern Spain. Can the central government mobilize enough resources to defeat the pro-independence majority in Catalonia? Or will the separatists be able to unite behind a single leader and defeat Rajoy’s assault?