Catalonia edges towards Spain split
MADRID: Pro-independence parties in Catalonia won Sunday's regional vote, strengthening a drive for a referendum on secession in defiance of the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.
The Catalan President, Artur Mas, who called early elections to force the debate on independence, won 50 of the 135 seats in the regional assembly for his Convergencia i Unio party, down from 62, according to the regional government, with 93 per cent of the vote counted. The separatist Catalan Republican Left more than doubled its seats to 21 from 10. Two smaller parties that also back a plebiscite secured 16 seats.
Mr Rajoy, weakened by recession and speculation that Spain needs a European bailout, says a referendum on secession is unconstitutional. Mr Mas's failure to secure a majority for his party may leave him dependent on separatist parties to govern Spain's largest regional economy.
Changing tide … ERC candidate Oriol Junqueras celebrates. Photo: Reuters
The Republican Left, known as the ERC, ''are the winners,'' said Ismael Crespo, a political scientist at the independent Fundacion Ortega-Maranon research institute in Madrid. ''This is going to complicate things for Mas - he had set out a timetable of four years, but ERC want it in six months. He can't govern without them.''
Mr Rajoy's People's Party won 19 seats, a gain of one. The Socialists won 20 seats, down from 28.
Mr Mas has pledged a referendum within four years. If there's a majority of pro-independence in parliament, ''it would be fraud'' to ditch the planned vote, he said earlier this month.
Mr Mas blamed tax transfers to the rest of Spain for the area's financial woes and has pushed for independent tax collection. The region transfers €15 billion ($19 billion), or 8 per cent of its output, to the rest of Spain.
Since elections in 2010, Mr Mas, whose party's pro-business economic policies are in line with those of Mr Rajoy, has led a minority government. Mr Rajoy's PP has backed his two austerity budgets. The 2013 budget will be one of the new government's first tasks.
The 7.5 million Catalans make up 16 per cent of the Spanish population and last year contributed 19 per cent of the country's economic output. Catalonia is the country's most-indebted region, with total borrowing of €48.5 billion. Moody's Investors Service cut its credit rating to junk on August 31.
The fallout from Europe's debt crisis has shut Catalonia out of financial markets.