December 21, 2017
Catalonia goes to the polls today for a regional election called by Spain's central government after dissolving the rebel government of Carles Puigdemont, who is contesting the election from self-imposed exile in Brussels. What the polls tell us is that the outcome is essentially a toss-up between a repeat of the previous situation - a separatist majority in the regional parliament, but likely without a majority of the votes behind it due to the under-representation of Barcelona - or a gridlock. There is a slim chance (El País' poll aggregator puts it at one in twenty-five) of a unionist majority in the parliament. Polls close at 8pm and the results will likely be known by midnight.
Apart from whether or not the separatists repeat their majority, the other open question is which individual party will get the most votes and seats. Just two months ago it looked like the (separatist) republican left of Catalonia (ERC) would win by a wide margin. but since then there have been two clear trends in the polls. One is Puigdemont's list (JxC) taking votes away from ERC and the other is the growing support for Ciudadanos, the leading unionist party in Catalonia. The latter correlates with a loss of support for the Catalan People's Party. This to us looks like strategic voting as conservative unionists see the chance that Ciudadanos will win the election, and shift their vote to make it happen.
In case the separatists win a majority of seats, ERC will try to get their leader Oriol Junqueras, formerly Puigdemont's deputy premier and now in jail, to be voted in as the next regional premier. The Spanish supreme court will have to decide whether to keep Junqueras in jail pending trial, or to release him. The issue here is that ERC's face in the election campaign, Marta Rovira, has been insisting that the independent Catalonia has been declared and what needs to happen now is the implementation of the independent republic. They hope the Spanish government will enter into negotiations on this. Puigdemont, who has an outside chance of coming first, is actually the preferred next regional premier according to opinion polls. In his case, the issue is that he would probably be arrested the minute he set foot in Spain, as he has missed several court summons in the same case involving Junqueras.
In the also likely case that there is no separatist or unionist majority, the kingmaker will be Catalunya en Comú/Podem, the grass-roots "commons" associated with Podemos nationally and which keeps an uncomfortably ambiguous position. They would prefer to break the separatist/unionist frame and form a left government with ERC and the Catalan socialists, but neither of these two parties are interested, and in any case the odds of that alliance having a majority are not better than maybe one in six.