The territorial crisis surrounding the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia is currently dominating Spain's political landscape, as the country's prime minister was forced to call snap elections scheduled for April following a collapse of negotiations with separatist Catalan outfits.
The pro-Catalan independence parties voting down the budget proposal put forward by the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the ruling Socialist Party, prompted the decision to call early elections for Apr. 28, with everything pointing toward the upcoming campaign being engulfed by the Catalonia question.
"Within the constitution, everything is possible; outside of the constitution, nothing," Sánchez said to justify his refusal to negotiate a referendum on the region's self-determination, which was the main condition set by the separatists to back his budget plan.
Spain's constitution does not contemplate holding any such referendums anywhere in the nation, but the backing of Catalan nationalists was essential for the bill to be passed in the lower house of parliament.
The Catalan crisis that has for the past six years polarized the region between those who are pro- and anti-independence was also the focus of the first reactions by the leader of the right-wing opposition Popular Party, Pablo Casado, after learning of the new electoral date.
Casado claimed that it was thanks to him that the snap elections had been called because he had "caught" Sánchez negotiating with the regional Catalan president, Quim Torra.
The PP leader added that what Catalonia needed was the recipe of triggering Article 155 of the constitution, which contemplates stripping the devolved region from its autonomy and letting the central government in Madrid completely take over every aspect of its administration.
This would not be the first time Spanish conservatives have proposed this measure: Mariano Rajoy – the predecessor of Sánchez as PM and of Casado as head of the PP – resorted to Art. 155 after the Catalan government unilaterally promoted a referendum in 2017 that was deemed illegal by the judiciary.
However, Rajoy only applied the constitutional procedure in a temporary and partial manner – which failed to reverse the balance of power in the subsequent regional elections – while Casado has suggested that on this occasion, it should be applied fully and without a limit in time.
There are two main scenarios now plausibly emerging when it comes to the aftermath of the upcoming general elections, which are set to coincide with the ongoing trial of 12 separatist figureheads allegedly involved in organizing the 2017 referendum that is again polarizing Spanish society between those in favor and against Catalonia's right to decide if it wants to continue being a part of the country or not.
The first possibility is a rightist majority composed by Casado's PP, the business-friendly Ciudadanos ("Citizens") party and the far-right VOX – whose recent surge in polling is widely attributed to the Catalan crisis – as some recent surveys show a coalition between the three outfits could obtain enough parliamentary seats to form a new government.
Another scenario would be a center-left coalition between Sánchez's Socialist Party and Ciudadanos.
Nevertheless, nothing suggests that either of those options would entail that the Catalan crisis could return to the back-burner.
A right-leaning majority would absolutely reject negotiating a political solution to the crisis, while a center-left government would likely do the same, as Ciudadanos is much less receptive than the Socialists when it comes to the Catalan separatists' demands.
By Alberto Masegosa