Catalonia election, 2015

Catalonia held elections to its regional parliament today. An alliance of separatists has won a majority. According to Reuters,

The main secessionist group “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) was on track to secure 62 seats, while the smaller leftist CUP party would get another 10 [out of 135].

Their votes combine for 47.8%, and there was “record turnout” (78%).

This F&V planting is located in “Spain” because, at least for now, it is.

27 thoughts on “Catalonia election, 2015

  1. As far as Catalan Parliament elections are concerned, yesterday’s voter turnout of 77.4% is a record (although it may come down slightly once absentee ballots are tallied), and well above turnout figures for previous elections since 1980, which fluctuated between 54.9% and 67.8%. However, it is not an overall record for Catalonia: voter turnout in the region was even higher in the (Spain-wide) general elections of 1977 (79.5%) and 1982 (80.8%). At any rate, the official election results website has detailed figures in English of yesterday’s vote here.

    Concerning the outcome, El País has an interesting article (in Spanish) of what to expect next here. It appears the radical leftist CUP (the Popular Unity Candidacy – which also takes its name from Salvador Allende’s 1970-73 government in Chile) won’t have anything to do with Artur Mas, the outgoing president of the Generalitat – Catalonia’s regional government – and leader of the right-of-center Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), the erstwhile senior partner in the now-defunct CiU coalition and one of the two major parties in the JxSí ticket (the other being the Republican Left of Catalonia or ERC). In short, things could get messy soon and yet another early regional election may be inevitable. Moreover, Catalonia will be back to the polls before the year is over, as a general election is due in Spain by next December at the latest.

    The Madrid press has repeatedly pointed out the inequities of the electoral system in place in Catalonia, which is a small-scale version of the Spanish electoral system: for all the chest thumping about being independent from Spain or acting as such, and getting more powers from Madrid, Catalonia has no electoral law of its own, and successive Catalan administrations haven’t bothered to do anything about that. In any event, the current law over-represents the three smaller provinces in the Catalan Parliament at the expense of Barcelona, the latter being also the only province where the three percent threshold is actually meaningful. In any event, the JxSí ticket did far better in the three smaller provinces than in Barcelona, so the over-representation of the former worked to its advantage, and as a result the pro-independence parties won 72 seats to 63 for the four “constitutional” (i.e. anti-independence) parties, despite the latter having a slightly overall share of the vote (48.1%) than JxSí and CUP (47.8%). In addition, the exclusion of CDC’s erstwhile junior partner in CiU, the Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC) – which polled 2.5% of the vote but fell short of the threshold in Barcelona – worked to the advantage of the pro-independence parties.


    • It’s been just over two months since Catalonia’s pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in elections to the region’s devolved Parliament, but neither beleaguered Catalan President Artur Mas nor the independence drive appear to be making any progress. As previously anticipated, CUP has repeatedly refused to provide Mas with the votes he needs to stay in office, although the party did back an independence declaration passed by Parliament last month – which not surprisingly was promptly suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

      Meanwhile, Mas has other problems to worry about. Catalonia – along with the rest of Spain – returns to the polls next December 20 for a general election, but unlike in last September’s vote, CDC – now rebranded as Democracy and Freedom (DiL) – and ERC will be running separately this time around. Moreover, polls in Catalonia suggest a tight four-way race between C’s, ERC, PSC and DiL, with ECP – the joint ticket of Podemos and ICV – not far behind; one poll published by La Vanguardia this weekend has the anti-independence parties (C’s, PSC and PP) securing a plurality of seats in the region, with Democracy and Freedom finishing fourth, well below the results polled by CiU just four years ago. As for CUP, they’re not running in the upcoming election, since the party regards Spanish legislative elections as irrelevant to Catalonia’s interests.

      While Spanish poll figures should be taken with some caution, not least because of the very high number of undecided voters (which are nonetheless allocated to the competing parties by methods known only to the pollsters), there’s a growing perception that Mas’ independence drive has stirred up forces which are rapidly spinning beyond his control, and may well overwhelm him and his party.

      On a final note – and as previously anticipated – the definitive voter turnout in Catalonia’s September election came down to 74.9% once absentee ballots were tallied. If I’m not mistaken, the fairly substantial drop relative to preliminary figures stems from a nationwide change in absentee ballot procedures, under which expatriate voters are no longer sent ballots automatically but instead have to request them; while the intent was to combat election fraud (under the old procedures absentee ballots were sometimes sent to deceased individuals), the practical outcome has been that the already low expatriate turnout rate has nosedived to low single digit figures since the change was implemented earlier this decade.


      • Manuel, thank you for the update. I am confused about a couple of points. First, if the pro-independence parties won a majority, why is there a question of whether Mas has the votes to stay in office? Do you mean that the alliance is breaking up?

        Also, when you say an election “next December 20”, do you mean 2015 or 2016? Either way, why so soon?


      • Matthew, the election in Catalonia last September was an early poll for the region’s devolved Parliament, whereas the upcoming December 20, 2015 vote will be a regularly scheduled election to choose members of the Spanish Senate and Congress of Deputies.

        Although pro-independence parties won 72 of 135 seats in the Catalan Parliament last September, the far-left CUP – which won ten seats – wasn’t part of the JxSí alliance formed by CDC, ERC and Independents, which secured 62 seats – six short of an overall majority. Moreover, the bulk of CUP doesn’t want CDC leader Artur Mas to continue as President of Catalonia’s devolved government, the Generalitat, and none of the other parties in the Catalan Parliament will back Mas either. However, Mas won’t budge and make way for another leader who might be acceptable to CUP (or for that matter the other parties). On top of that, Catalonia’s business community – traditionally a strong backer of the now-defunct CiU alliance and CDC in particular – is becoming increasingly uneasy about the way in which Mas has (mis)handled the independence process, and his (so far) unsuccessful dealings with the radical CUP. CDC’s shift from devolution to independence appears to have cost the party the support of many moderate Catalan voters on the one hand, while benefitting ERC on the other one; that may not have been obvious last September (as there was no way of breaking down the JxSí vote by its constituent parties), but it seems increasingly clear now that CDC and ERC have gone their separate ways, at least for the upcoming Spanish general election.


        • OK. I misunderstood that you were referring to another Catalonian regional assembly election. Are voting patterns generally quite similar between the two levels? Thank you for the clarifications on the alliance.


      • Following a dramatic CUP assembly late last year in which delegates deadlocked 1,515-to-1,515 on the issue of backing Artur Mas’ re-election as President of Catalonia, the party finally decided today against supporting Mas, and Catalonia now appears to be on the verge of yet another early election for its devolved legislature. If the Catalan Parliament fails to elect a new president by January 9 – which now appears all but certain, barring any unforeseen developments – an early election will be automatically called the following day, to be held around mid-March; it would be the fourth such vote in five years, and also the fourth poll in Catalonia held within the last twelve months, following municipal elections last May, the early Catalan Parliament election last September, and last December’s elections to the Spanish Senate and Congress of Deputies.

        Historically, Catalonia’s voting patterns in elections to the Catalan Parliament have been broadly similar but not quite identical to those observed in elections to the Spanish Congress of Deputies; as a general rule, nationalist parties have usually fared better in elections to the region’s devolved legislature, but there has been a lot of volatility lately, as evidenced by the dramatic differences between the outcome in Catalonia of the general election last December and the regional election the preceding September.

        At any rate, CUP’s decision today is but the latest of many setbacks for Artur Mas: as previously anticipated, the CDC-led Democracy and Freedom ticket did not fare well in last December’s poll, with a fourth place finish and the worst result for the party since 1979.


      • Catalonia appears to have avoided another early regional election after JxSí and CUP reached today an eleventh-hour agreement on a compromise candidate to preside the Generalitat. As part of the agreement, Artur Mas will step down in favor of Girona mayor Carles Puigdemont, and two CUP deputies will join the JxSí parliamentary group, in order for Mr. Puigdemont to have a majority of one in the investiture vote.


      • Woah, the deal includes MPs changing party? Did I understand that correctly? Because I’ve never heard of something like that before. Pledging votes, yes, but not seats.


    • Strictly speaking, the CUP deputies joining the parliamentary group of JxSí won’t be changing parties, since JxSí is not a party but a coalition of CDC, ERC and independents; that said, it’s a very unusual arrangement.

      The full text of the agreement is available here in Spanish. My impression is that the pro-independence parties came to the conclusion that they had a one time-only opportunity at hand, holding an overall legislative majority (unlikely to be repeated in another election) precisely at a moment when the government is Madrid is unusually weak (due to the hung Congress of Deputies). Moreover, the coming week is going to be a difficult one for the institution of the Spanish monarchy, as the Nóos corruption case heads to court; the general expectation is that King Felipe’s brother-in-law (the husband of Infanta Cristina, the monarch’s sister) will be found guilty and incarcerated.


      • As expected – following the last-minute deal between JxSí and CUP – Girona mayor Carles Puigdemont became President of the Generalitat today, after winning a parliamentary investiture vote by 70-to-63, with two abstentions. I don’t know much about Mr. Puigdemont beyond what the Spanish press has written about him this weekend, but he seems even more dogmatic and inflexible than outgoing president Artur Mas, and Catalonia appears set to resume its collision course with Madrid over the issue of independence.


    • That’s correct, but CUP believed that there had to be a majority of both seats (which was attained) and votes (which was not) for the pro-independence tickets in order to push independence forward.

      My website’s Catalonia page now has complete preliminary results of yesterday’s vote, and I’ve been running the distribution of seats both with no formal threshold and with a fully proportional allocation of seats by provincial population. I’ll have quite a bit to say later about that matter, but in the meantime I can confirm that the overall distribution of seats among competing tickets wouldn’t have changed significantly under either or both scenarios, contrary to what the Madrid press would have us believe.


      • As detailed on a posting I published yesterday on my site’s blog, malapportionment did help JxSí, but not nearly as much as the application of the D’Hondt rule in the three smaller provinces; proportionality is not an issue in Barcelona, given the large number of seats assigned to that province. At any rate, a fairly proportional outcome could have been attained by 1) reapportionment on the basis of population figures; and 2) switching from D’Hondt to the Sainte-Lagüe method.

        That said, while going over the results of past Catalan Parliament elections, I came across an interesting finding, namely that the over-representation of CiU (or JxSí in 2015) in the three smaller provinces has increased substantially in the last three elections. CiU had always been by far the dominant force in the three outlying provinces: in the eight elections held between 1980 and 2006, CiU polled on average 44.3% in the three provinces and won 50% of the seats there, a pattern fairly in line with what would be expected from using D’Hondt on mid-sized constituencies (15-18 seats each). However, in the three elections since 2010, while CiU/JxSí average share of the vote dropped slightly to 44%, its average share of seats in the three small provinces went up to 54%, and consequently the over-representation gap almost doubled, from 5.7% to ten percent.

        To be certain, part of that gap’s increase was the result of increases in the average shares of blank ballots (which count as valid votes in Spain) from 1.0% in 1983-2006 to 1.7% in 2010-2015; and of “wasted” votes (votes cast for lists that won no seats in the three constituencies, including lists that won seats in Barcelona only), which almost doubled between 1983-2006 (3.9%) and 2010-2015 (7.2%). But even when recalculating CiU/JxSís vote percentages on the basis of votes cast for lists with at least one seat in one of the three provinces, the average gap still went up from 3.4% in 1983-2006 to 5.8% in 2010-2015. Moreover, in 2015 the share of blank ballots dropped to its lowest level since 1984 (0.6%), while the share of “wasted” votes in the three provinces stood at just 3.6% (2.7% for UDC alone), yet JxSí won 60% of the seats with 50% of the vote – a ten point gap (7.8% if blank and “wasted” votes were to be disregarded).

        However, one change that has taken place throughout Catalonia from 2010 onwards is that CiU/JxSí has faced increasingly fragmented and weaker competitors. Again, while this has not been an issue in Barcelona, it has had an impact in the three smaller provinces. From 1983 to 2006, the Socialists (PSC-PSOE) stood as CiU’s main challenger, albeit consistently well behind the latter in the three provinces, on average by just over twenty percent. However, in 2010 the Socialist vote tanked, and the gap between CiU and PSC-PSOE in the outlying provinces increased to 27.3%; two years later ERC overtook the Socialists in the three small provinces, but stood nearly twenty-two points behind CiU. Finally, in 2015 C’s became Catalonia’s second largest party, but in the outlying provinces it came a whooping thirty-five points behind JxSí. On average, between 2010 and 2015 CiU/JxSí enjoyed a lead of twenty-eight percent in Catalonia’s three smaller constituencies.

        I have known for a very long time that on small-size constituencies the D’Hondt rule disproportionately favors the major parties and particularly the winner, but until now I had not realized that it can also skew significantly the allocation of seats on mid-sized constituencies in favor of the winner when the latter enjoys a large advantage over fragmented and weak opponents.


  2. It is interesting how in spite of devolution nationalism only seems to have gained more support in Catalonia. It looks like devolution actually created the separatist upsurge. Just like Filippov, Ordeshook and Shvetsova have argued for Canada, the lack of a powerful senate, in which the regions are represented, means every debate about redistribution of money and distribution of power among the regions themselves and between the regions and the central government has to be held outside official venues. This disintegrates the national parties, and creates an opening for separatist parties. Even if Catalonia fails to declare independence in the next 18 months, instability will probably remain.

    I address the question in more detail here:


    • Actually I pretty much completely disagree with this. As in holding the diametrically opposite opinion.

      Essentially the argument is that if you concede pretty much everything to the region that wants to separate, except the most essential advantages of sovereignty (defense, basic civil rights, migration, tariffs, and good thinking people are supposed to oppose controls on the latter two in all circumstances anyway), eventually the people in the region realize that they have a pretty good deal as it is and its not worth the bother of formal independence. This approach seems to have worked in Quebec recently. A similar approach worked to keep monarchs on their thrones in a number of European countries.

      In the case of Catalonia, given the Quebec and Scottish examples I don’t even see what the fuss is. In both latter cases they have had secessionist parties control the regional government and nearly swept the representation in the center and accomplished nada in terms of moving the region towards independence. There are actually not many examples of a secessionist movement that has been successful through elections/ referendums. You basically are limited to Norway (no one cared), Ireland (a ridiculous series of mis-steps by the central government and they didn’t get the whole region anyway), Singapore (kicked out), and Slovakia (pretty much also kicked out). We have a successful example of a region seceding from Spain, in the case of Portugal, and electoral politics were not involved.


      • For a full list:

        Ireland didn’t secede after referendum, it fought a war of independence for it.

        Considering how close Quebec came to seceding, I would say that strategy *almost* failed. It’s also taken a while for the Bloc to wither, something no-one would have predicted just five years ago.


      • In 1933 the people of Western Australia voted 68% to 32% for secession. The federal and imperial governments politely ignored WA’s demands and there was a change of government at the next state election.


  3. I think part of what Filippov, Ordeshook and Shvetsova are trying to say is that in a properly working federation you do not want the states to do everything themselves, because it defeats the purpose of having a federation in the first place. To actually gain something from a federation you need to centralize some policy areas, and doing so creates an inherent dynamic of haggling about who needs to pay what, which companies settled in which state gets to produce it, etc. So indeed, making the states all-powerful in everything but the essence of sovereignty (which in my view includes taxation, so there comes negotiation back in, so it would have to exclude taxation), could be a solution to federal instability, but then most advantages of federalism are removed. Meanwhile, if you do want a more efficient federation, you want more powers to remain with the central government, and thus you need a mechanism to prevent the constant negotiating, about who needs to pay and where is it spent, from spilling over into a debate on whether being part of the federation is worthwhile.

    In the case of Catalonia this is less of an issue, because the EU already does so much when it comes to issues that normally would be federal issues (especially monetary policy is an important one here, given the large economic difference between Catalonia and southern Spain). So there will be less and less Spain can devolve to Catalonia. This is more or less the strategy of the New Flemish Alliance, who want to separate from Wallonia by simply allowing the EU to replace the Belgian federal government. However, for the UK the question of giving which level of government which power remains an issue, seeing their EU opt-outs.

    Moreover I think the constant instability in Spain, the UK and Canada is itself a problem. Even if the referenda failed by a small margin every time so far, we cannot simply deduce that this will remain so in the future. Montenegro declared its independence after a referendum, Slovenia declared its independence after a referendum, JD gave some other examples of Yes-votes on referenda, so it is not unheard of to declare independence after a referendum. Especially the case of the Soviet Union is telling, because the majority of the people did not want complete independence of the Soviet Union initially. The reason it collapsed was predominantly the fact that regional elites were not tied to the central government, which gave them a free hand in declaring independence (this case is one of the core examples FOS use to explain their theory).

    So I still think constitutional reforms would stabilize those countries. This does not mean that devolution as such is a bad thing, I completely agree that giving citizens more influence on their own lives and communities is both intrinsically a good thing, and instrumentally useful to persuade them to stay in the union. It is indeed likely that had Canada, Spain and the UK been completely unitary states, they also would have had separatist issues. However, this does not mean that devolution created another dynamic that fostered separatism.


  4. Canada, Britain and Spain have common institutional features that I think are a better explanation of their ructions than federalism per se. All lack a federal chamber that effectively represents the constituent units. All are asymmetric although the asymmetry is quite weak in Canada. All are linguistically diverse although Scottish, Welsh and Gaelic do not enjoy the status of French in Canada or the regional languages in Spain.

    Most importantly, PR is weak in Spain, unknown in Canada, and only used for subcentral governments in the UK.


    • Unless you’d say that Australia is a similar case, institutionally, the issue isn’t (per se) upper house representation of constituent units but the lack of an upper house that can provide an effective check on the executive.


      • The Australian senate is an effective (historically a spectacularly effective) second chamber, a PR chamber, and a federal chamber. The constitution is not asymmetric. I suspect the combination of asymmetry and the lack of PR make the crucial difference. It follows that Australia is a distinct case from Canada, Britain and Spain.

        I suppose it would just be possible to draw large multimember districts in Australia that did not correspond to the states but it is hard to see how they would be more useful than the existing senate districts.


      • Even so, the Senate is hardly a Chamber of the States. People vote for parties, and party unity is hardly any lower than the House. Senators rarely vote on State lines. Really, it wouldn’t be very different if you just had a single nationwide district.


        • A single nationwide district under STV would be horrendous. The link between elector and elected would be attenuated to the point where it may as well not exist. Broadly (judging by experience in SA and the ACT) Australians disapprove list systems, which is about the only way a single nationwide district could work.

          The existence of a federal chamber has indirect effects that are not immediately obvious. For example no prime minister of Australia ever has any difficulty ensuring cabinet representation from every state. Although the senators themselves rarely divide on state lines, the state electorates do vote differently. Tasmania, for example, was returning green senators long before other states. There are senate rebellions on state issues which may well serve to keep the government very aware of the need to take state interests into account. A small group of dissident senators, for example, defeated efforts for simultaneous elections for both houses at 4 successive referendums in the 1970s and 80s. Government senators do act as state lobbyists, but in the cabinet not the senate itself.

          It is one thing to say the senate rarely divides on state lines. It is quite another to say that if there were no senate or if the senate were not a federal chamber that politics would operate in the same way.

          I do suspect that having a PR chamber (or a strongly PR chamber in the case of Spain) would be more beneficial to the three nations than a federal chamber.


      • My understanding is that there is already very little voter-Senator connection, outside perhaps Tasmania and the territories. NSW already elects 21 MLCs each election by STV with above the line voting, 36 would not be much more than that (although I’ll readily admit Australia is much larger, though the Australian states are still as large as many countries).

        You keep saying ‘federal chamber’ as if it’s a generally understood term. What do you mean by it? Is equal state representation enough to make a chamber federal for you? What if you used the states as districts, but had representation according to population – would it no longer be a federal chamber?


      • At least one independent has been returned at every senate election since 1959. They have not come only from Tasmania and no-one has been elected as an independent senator for a territory. Voting for independents has to be a direct rebuttal to ‘very little voter-Senator connection’.

        As magnitude increases in an STV election the difficulty of voting rises faster than magnitude. There is no corresponding gain in proportionality.

        A single national district for the senate would be an absurdity. Only the major parties could campaign across the whole country and very likely only the major parties and the occasional Trump clone would be elected. It is 5 hours 15 minutes by jet from Brisbane to Perth. It is 5 hours 36 minutes from Hobart to Darwin. It is 3 hours 45 minutes to fly from London to Moscow. The land area of Australia is 7,692,024 km sq. The combined land area of the EU is 4,422,773 km sq.

        You are not only proposing a legislative district larger than the total area of the EU, but a ballot paper containing (2013 general election figures) 529 candidates. There is a point at which further discussion becomes unnecessary.


      • Heck, I’m not proposing anything, I’m naming hypotheticals to try and grasp your position. Not on the desirability or feasibility of the hypotheticals, but on their theoretical significance in terms of the connection between federalism and bicameralism.

        By the way, I come from a country where bedsheet ballots with hundreds of candidates have been the norm for almost a hundred years. I personally think it’s ridiculous, but it hasn’t stopped a single election from working out just fine.


  5. Pingback: Catalonia 2017 result | Fruits and Votes

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