Not everyone takes a long time to implement election results. Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad was sworn into office last Thursday, the day after his stunning electoral victory. But in other places, particularly in Europe, the process of forming government can drag out for weeks and months.
Italy, more than two months after its election, seems to be finally drawing to the close of that process, although the outcome is an ominous one. But an even longer-running saga ended last night as the Catalan parliament voted in a new premier, ending a stalemate that has lasted since the regional election just before Christmas.
Like Italy, the result looks like a victory for extremism. The new premier is Joaquim Torra, new to parliament but a long-standing hard line activist for independence. The pro-independence forces, with a narrow parliamentary majority, evidently considered him the best prospect out of the limited pool of those that are in the country and still at liberty.
Previous premier Carles Puigdemont remains the acknowledged leader of the independence movement, but he has been a fugitive since before the election, mostly in Belgium and Germany. Repeated attempts to allow him to be sworn in in absentia have been frustrated by the Spanish courts. Last week Puigdemont conceded defeat on that point and nominated Torra in his place.
The delay could not continue indefinitely, because the previous attempt to elect a premier actually went to a vote on 22 March, when Jordi Turrull – also from the pro-independence forces – was defeated on the first ballot. He was promptly taken into custody, but that vote started the clock ticking for the two month period after which a fresh election would have to be held if no government was in place.
Torra also failed on the first ballot, in which an absolute majority is required: he had 66 votes out of 135, with the four MPs from the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) abstaining, as they had in March. But the second ballot, held last night, needs only a simple majority, so Torra won by one vote, 66 to 65.
It’s not a very solid foundation to build a new government on, and certainly no basis for trying to build a new country. Yet both Torra’s supporters and the CUP (who want more confrontation with Madrid, not less) seem blithely unconcerned about their lack of a popular mandate.
Puigdemont last week referred to the Spanish government’s “intolerance and lack of respect towards the will of the citizens of Catalonia.” But the anti-independence parties won a majority of the vote last December: Torra’s parliamentary majority comes courtesy of the malapportioned electoral system, not the will of the Catalans.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has “offered talks” with Torra, according to the BBC, but his policies to date have fostered division and conflict in Catalonia. With a new government in place, direct rule from Madrid should come to an end, but given the uncompromising attitudes on both sides it may well be only a matter of time before it is reimposed.