Prisoners, Politicians and Provocateurs
Who to watch in Spain’s constitutional crisis
Author: Maria Tadeo
Published on: Bloomberg | November 7th , 2017
After an illegal referendum and a declaration of independence that was universally ignored, Catalans go to the polls again next month as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tries to restore a degree of normality to the rebel region.
Here are the key figures who will shape the political future of Spain.
Mariano Rajoy, 62
Despite his reputation as a cautious pragmatist, the prime minister triggered Article 155 of the constitution for the first time ever last month to suspend Catalonia’s self-government. He’s recovering after outrage over a wave of corruption scandals helped strip him of his majority in 2015.
What to watch: Rajoy has tried to keep out of the firing line so far, letting the courts take the lead in attempts to shut down the separatist movement. If we see the prime minister take a more public role in the election campaign, that’ll be a sign of his growing confidence—or concern.
Carles Puigdemont, 54
Puigdemont was a compromise candidate plucked from obscurity in 2015 to lead a disparate alliance of separatists in the regional government. He fled to Belgium last month after the Catalan parliament declared independence and Rajoy seized control of the rebel administration.
What to watch: Puigdemont is holed up in Brussels in a bid to win support from the EU for some of the independence campaign’s demands. Any sign that he’s succeeding would be a major blow to Rajoy.
Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, 46
The deputy prime minister is one of Rajoy’s closest advisers but she’s had a torrid year after being handed responsibility for Catalonia and overseeing the botched attempt to stop the illegal referendum.
What to watch: She’s running the Catalan administration since Rajoy took control. Her credibility, and Rajoy’s political strategy, depends in large measure on her ability to keep order.
Oriol Junqueras, 48
The ousted vice president of Catalonia was jailed by the National Court while he’s investigated for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. But he’s still set to run in December’s regional election and is a leading contender to be the next Catalan president.
What to watch: Junqueras is a charismatic politician, despite his scruffy appearance. But running a campaign from behind bars will be a challenge.
Carme Forcadell, born 1956
The former Catalan language teacher led the biggest pro-independence campaign group before being elected speaker of regional parliament in 2015. She steered the Catalan election law through the regional legislature over the objections of her opponents and then oversaw the declaration of independence.
What to watch: A hardliner within the movement, she’s facing a Supreme Court investigation over the declaration of independence. While she remains active, Forcadell will be pushing the separatists to be more aggressive.
Judge Carmen Lamela, 56
Lamela is running the National Court investigation into the ousted Catalan government. Her uncompromising decisions have already seen eight former officials jailed, handing the separatists a new rallying cry just as support for the campaign was flagging.
What to watch: Lamela will have the biggest say in whether officials from the previous government are still behind bars when Catalans go to the polls on Dec. 21.
Ines Arrimadas, 36
The head of the liberal party Ciudadanos in Catalonia was opposition leader in regional parliament before it was dissolved. Born in the southern region of Andalusia, Arrimadas moved to Catalonia about eight years ago and is one of the strongest voices speaking out against independence.
What to watch: In Rajoy’s dream scenario, Arrimadas would be the next regional president, most likely at the head of a coalition including the Socialists and the prime minister’s People’s Party – a marginal force in Catalonia. Her party won 25 of the 135 seats in the legislature in 2015.
Anna Gabriel, born 1975
Gabriel’s miner father moved to Catalonia from Andalusia. The leader of the radical CUP party was the first generation of her family to back independence and has been a political activist since she was 16, starting off in the antifascist movement.
CUP votes were key for the pro-independence majority last time around. Her party forced the exit of Artur Mas as regional president which ultimately led to Puigdemont being appointed.
What to watch: The CUP are the wildcards of the independence movement, constantly pushing for more disruptive action with little concern for the impact on business. If they are again needed to form a majority, it will make for a bumpier ride.
Jordi Sanchez, 53
Jordi Cuixart, 42
Jordi Cuixart, left, and Jordi Sanchez
Known as “Los Jordis,” the leaders of the two biggest campaign groups were jailed last month as the National Court investigates them for sedition. Key players in the civil push for independence—they can gather large crowds within minutes. ABC newspaper reported that Sanchez’s cell mate asked to move because he was sick of hearing talk of Catalan independence.
What to watch: The Jordis have become iconic figures for the movement since being jailed and there is talk that they could run in next month’s elections as the joint leaders of pro-independence alliance, if rival groups can set aside their differences.
Ada Colau, 43
The first woman Mayor of Barcelona came to prominence after running a campaign against evictions during Spain’s economic crisis. She was once arrested by police after breaking into a bank branch.
What to watch: Colau is against unilateral independence but in favor of a vote on self-determination. Her endorsement in the Dec. 21 could be crucial in tilting the balance of power.