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Catalan Socialists call on Podemos to drop referendum demands

Using secession vote as bargaining chip blocking alternative to PP government, says PSC

Pablo Iglesias and Ada Colau at a December 13 campaign rally at La Caja Mágica in Madrid.

With the issue of a referendum on Catalan independence continuing to block negotiations for a leftist pact in the wake of Spain’s general election, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) on Thursday asked Podemos officials in the region to withdraw their demands for a vote on secession and join a coalition to form a national government.

PSC spokeswoman Esther Niubó said it would be easier to come up with an “alternative” to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) government if Podemos stopped using the referendum as a bargaining chip for coalition negotiations.

The 12 En Comú Podem deputies in Catalonia could be key to forming any agreement

In explaining her party’s position, Niubó said it had been some time since Catalan nationalists had talked about “the right for the people to decide” on secession, instead focusing solely on achieving independence directly.

The PSC was reacting to statements made by Xavier Domènech, spokesman for En Comú Podem, the Podemos brand in the northeastern region, who reminded the Catalan Socialists that just last year they had backed the idea of a referendum.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who has become one of Podemos’s biggest assets in the region since winning May’s municipal elections under its Barcelona En Comú banner, agreed to support the En Comú Podem coalition on the condition that considering a referendum would be a priority.

Podemos secretary general Pablo Iglesias has insisted that his party will only join forces with another political grouping that pledges to push for a referendum in the northeastern region.

Repeating what Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez had said earlier this week, Niubó said her party was not willing to negotiate any proposals aimed at breaking up Spanish national territory.

But even if the Socialists and Podemos join forces, they are still short of the 176 deputies needed for an absolute majority to form a government. The Socialists won 90 seats in the December 20 election while Podemos took 69, which includes the 27 won by its local affiliates in Catalonia, Valencia, Galicia and the Basque Country. 

The 12 En Comú Podem deputies in Catalonia could thus be key to forming any agreement, but even then the Socialists and Podemos would need additional support from minor groups, such as the United Left (IU) and the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), to muster enough votes to create a government.

En Comú Podem spokesman Xavier Domènech.

Acting Prime Minister Rajoy is struggling to convince the Socialists and other forces to support his bid for a second term. The PP won the elections with 123 seats, but also came up short of an absolute majority.

The centrist newcomer Ciudadanos came in as the fourth political force, capturing 40 seats.

If no pacts or coalitions are formed, fresh elections will have to be called – something unprecedented in modern Spanish democratic history.

En Comú Podem leader Domènech said on Wednesday that his party campaign pledge was not to vote in favor of any government that did not support holding a referendum for Catalonia. He also warned that En Comú Podem would block any attempt by Iglesias to negotiate a pact with the Socialists if it did not include a referendum promise.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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