Spain’s right wing, in power under former pemier Mariano Rajoy during Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid, is trying to regain ground in the vote-rich region ahead of this month’s early general election with a more conciliatory tone.
But a return to power for the right-wing People’s Party (PP), which is leading in the polls, risks reigniting separatist tensions – especially if the party needs the support of far-right Vox to govern.
Current PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo has visited Catalonia multiple times before the 23 July vote and has vowed to be the head of government of ‘all Catalans’.
The northeastern region, one of Spain’s richest whose capital is Barcelona, accounts for 48 seats in the country’s 350-seat parliament.
The PP, which adopted a hard line against Catalonia’s independence push, held only two of these 48 seats in the outgoing assembly and has room to grow in the region.
Feijóo vowed during an interview published in daily newspaper El Mundo on 2 July that if he becomes prime minister, he will tell the separatists still in power in Catalonia that he is ‘available to talk’.
The tone contrasts with that of former PP prime minister Rajoy who ordered the national police to try and block the 2017 independence referendum from going ahead, and who responded to a short-lived independence declaration by abolishing Catalan autonomy. The region’s leaders either fled abroad or were arrested and later sentenced to lengthy jail terms.
It was one of Spain’s worst political crises since the country returned to democracy following the death of dictator Franco in 1975.
Current socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who came to power less than a year later, has repeated on the campaign trail that he ‘quelled the conflict’ by taking ‘risky decisions’.
His government in 2021 pardoned the jailed Catalan leaders behind the failed independence bid, a concession seen as unacceptable by the right wing which sees itself as the defender of Spanish unity.
Feijóo has vowed to pass a law if he comes to power to punish the staging of an independence referendum and to re-establish the crime of sedition which was used to sentence the Catalan leaders.
Sánchez’s government removed the crime of sedition from the penal code as an olive branch to the Catalans after the disputed referendum.
The far-right Vox group, currently Spain’s third largest political party, takes an even harder line – it has demanded that Catalan separatist parties be criminalised and that power is re-centralised to Madrid.
Founded in 2013 by disgruntled former PP members, Vox’s popularity soared thanks to its fierce opposition to the failed Catalan independence bid.
‘Faced with this reactionary wave, Catalonia will be the bastion of the defence of rights and freedoms,’ Pere Aragonès, a moderate separatist who heads the Catalan government, said last week. He has urged Catalans to ‘mobilise’ against the right.
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