Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
President of Catalonia and leader of the Catalan Convergence and Unity party, Artur Mas, right, casts his ballot for regional elections in Barcelona.
President of Catalonia and leader of the Catalan Convergence and Unity party, Artur Mas, right, casts his ballot for regional elections in Barcelona.

Catalans prepare to go it alone

Spain's Catalans, angry over rising unemployment and a belief they are unfairly taxed, are expected to deliver their separatist leader a mandate in regional vote.

BARCELONA // Spain's Catalans, angry over rising unemployment and persistent recession, were expected to deliver their separatist leader a mandate in yesterday's regional vote to press for secession.

Opinion polls show two thirds of voters will vote for parties that want Catalan independence, and the election may therefore provoke a constitutional crisis over the legality of a referendum on independence.

Pro-independence flags, a star against red and yellow stripes, hung over balconies all over Barcelona, Catalonia's capital city. Shop owner Margarita Bascompte said "in two weeks we sold more than we have in the last eight years".

Many Catalans believe they are taxed unfairly, crimping local spending on infrastructure and job creation. An estimated €16 billion (Dh76,2bn) in taxes paid in Catalonia, about 8 per cent of its economic output, is not returned to the region.

"Those who support [the president, Artur] Mas feel mistreated by Spain for a long time and we are fed up. The economic crisis has made the difference," said Rosabel Casajoana, 64, a teacher, emerging from a polling station having voted for Mas's conservative Convergence and Union party, or CiU,

CiU is expected to win most seats in the 135-seat regional assembly, or parliament.

But the projected 62 to 64 CiU deputies is short of an absolute majority, so Mr Mas - newly converted to separatism - will have to team up with smaller pro-independence groups such as the Republican Left, or ERC, to push ahead with a plebiscite.

That will put him on a collision course with Madrid, where the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, will use the constitution to block a referendum.

Home to car factories and banks that generate one fifth of Spain's economic wealth, and birthplace of the surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the architect Antoni Gaudi, the region also has one of the world's most successful football clubs, FC Barcelona.

With more people than Denmark and an economy almost as big as Portugal's, Catalonia has its own language. Like Basques, Catalans see themselves as distinct from the rest of Spain.

A recent convert to the cause of independence after a massive street demonstration in September, Mr Mas campaigned on a promise to hold a referendum on secession.

Catalonia's treasury is broke and the region's debt has been downgraded to junk. Blocked from the bond markets, Mr Mas has had to seek billions of euros in rescue funds from the central government, which is itself fighting to prevent financial meltdown.

But, on the campaign trail, Mr Mas focused on the region's gripes with Madrid. He told supporters he wanted to be the last president of Catalonia within Spain.

Voters said they felt this was the most important election since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s after the Franco dictatorship.

The Catalan independence movement, which made a surprising comeback this year after decades of dormancy, has threatened Mr Rajoy's mission to bring down painfully high borrowing costs by persuading investors of Spain's fiscal and political stability.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National