Ascertaining voters' intentions can be difficult. Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia's deposed regional president, has emerged as one of the winners of the snap Catalan elections. The same man who sparked a severe crisis in ties between Catalonia and Spain's central government, and who then fled to Belgium to avoid legal repercussions. And yet, Catalan voters have chosen to prolong the stand-off with Madrid.
Governing from jail or exile?
Puigdemont is elated by the electoral outcome, calling it a democratic victory for the "Catalan republic." But he is hardly an ideal candidate for overcoming this political deadlock. Would Madrid permit Puigdemont to return to Spain? And would Madrid accept him joining forces with his former coalition partners? One of the two independence parties, meanwhile, has a now adopted a more moderate position and has signaled it is open to talks. And the respective party leaders are not on the best of terms, either.
Puigdemont, meanwhile, is a pro-independence zealot. His only goal has been and remains Catalan secession. He has never cared about Catalan social policy issues, about schools or the health care system. The Catalan people love Puigdemont for his heroesque pathos. But what they really need is a pragmatic leader who will bring stability to the region.
Does Catalonia's separatist movement — which still has some leaders imprisoned and another in self-imposed exile — intend to name deputy representatives for their prospective government? And if so, what is their agenda? They have neither an absolute majority at home to unilaterally declare independence, nor backing from the rest of Spain, let alone the European Union. So will separatist hotheads chose a different path?
Rise of the new middle class
Young, energetic Ines Arrimadas has emerged as the other winner of this regional election. Arrimadas, who leads the pro-Madrid Citizens party, did not cave in to the separatists' fiery rhetoric. Her middle class supporters welcomed her determined stance. Now, Citizens is the strongest individual party in Catalan's regional parliament.
Arrimadas appeals to the rationality of her fellow Catalans, calling independence political nonsense and highlighting economic issues. But no potential coalition partners are available for her party to join forces with, as pro-independence parties hold a slim majority. The Socialists remain weak, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling conservative People's Party (PP) suffered a major defeat.
Are Rajoy's days numbered?
The Catalan regional election was free and democratic. Now, Rajoy must accept and live with an utterly undesirable outcome. From the outset, Rajoy misjudged the independence crisis and displayed neither political instinct nor shrewdness in dealing with the situation. His persistent stubbornness and ill-fated attempt to resolve the crisis by calling on Spain's courts could soon prove his undoing. The liberal Citizens party is a formidable political rival to Rajoy's PP that is untarnished by corruption scandals and can offer a fresh start. After this Catalan debacle, Rajoy's days will be numbered.
An unwelcome outcome
Democracy can produce electoral results that satisfy nobody. In Catalonia, the highly vocal separatists aren't pleased with the electoral outcome. And neither is the unionist camp which remains stuck in the opposition. But complaining doesn't help. Catalonia must accept this result and keep searching for a solution. Or heed calls for yet another round of elections. But to keep voting until one is satisfied with the result isn't a genuine option. So now, the time to reach a comprise has arrived.