Catalonia's separatist leader 'ready' to call fresh elections

AFP , Tuesday 5 Jan 2016

Catalonia
Acting regional President Artur Mas, right, looks on as a photographer gestures during a meeting board of Catalan Democratic Convergence (CDC) in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 (Photo: AP)

Catalonia's outgoing separatist leader Artur Mas said Tuesday he was reluctantly "ready" to call fresh parliamentary elections as the Spanish region's secessionist faction that won September polls failed to agree on who should lead a new government.

"I'm ready -- against my will, this is not what we wanted and it is not what I want -- but I'm ready to sign the decree to convene elections," he told reporters in Barcelona as a January 9 deadline to form a new government drew dangerously close.

Calling fresh polls -- which would be the fourth since 2010 in Catalonia -- would be a setback for the region's secessionist drive, which has been a major thorn in the side of Madrid.

Mas's "Together for Yes" secessionist alliance -- helped by the more radical, far-left separatist CUP party -- won a majority of seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament in September elections in the wealthy, 7.5-million-strong northeastern region.

But the honeymoon was short-lived as "Together for Yes", which won 62 seats, battled with the CUP to form a government.

Despite more than three months of intense negotiations, the small party that got 10 seats refused to give Mas the backing he needs to head up Catalonia again, resenting the austerity measures he implemented and corruption scandals linked to his party.

"I don't know if they realise the magnitude of the mistake they are making," Mas told reporters.

But he said there was still time to reach an agreement of some kind before the deadline at midnight on Saturday.

"I want to say this very clearly though: 'Together for Yes' has already made so many proposals that we cannot make anymore," he warned.

The CUP has said it could back another candidate, but Mas's CDC party -- which is part of 'Together for Yes' -- has ruled that possibility out.

The only option that remains is to convince a few CUP lawmakers to break rank and support them.

If they fail to do so, parliament will be dissolved after the January 9 deadline and Mas will call the elections.

"It's a risk because right now there are 72 separatist lawmakers," said Ferran Requejo, politics professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

"It could be that the result will be worse, because voters have seen that three months of secessionist majority in parliament has not resulted in a government agreement.

"That has resulted in the separatist factions running out of steam."

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