Optimism, political calculation or democratic necessity? Holding elections in the midst of a pandemic is a difficult puzzle for the authorities. We saw it in France that held the first round of municipal elections in March and had to wait until the end of june to celebrate the second in more or less correct sanitary conditions and not without controversy. Poland had to delay May at the end of June his presidential elections.
In Spain, the Basque Country and Galicia held elections in July.
But these calls avoided as much as possible the moments of greatest contagion.
On the contrary, the regional elections in Catalonia this Sunday, February 14, are held while the third wave of COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in Europe and in very difficult conditions. Some analysts attribute it to the electoral interests of the Catalan Socialist Party, after the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia forced the elections to be held on February 14 and not in May, as the Catalan Government had proposed in agreement with all the parties. except this one.
Others defend that the Justice has limited itself to following the electoral legislation to the letter.
The urgency of holding elections
Catalonia has a government in office since the Supreme Court last September disqualified President Joaquim Torra for a crime of disobedience by having refused to remove the yellow ribbons and banners in support of the ‘Procés’ prisoners from the official buildings.
Since then, Vice President Pere Aragonés has been in office, who did not have the power to call elections, among other limitations of the interim government. The electoral calendar was set by the Electoral Law, when the regional Parliament was dissolved with the entry of the Government into office.
Postponement for health reasons
Given the catastrophic figures of the pandemic in Spain, the regional government proposed, in agreement with the parties, to delay the elections to May, in the hope that the figures would improve.
However, the Socialist Party of Catalonia did not see the new date favorably. For some experts, health reasons could not prevail over the constitutional article that establishes that “the elections will take place between thirty days and sixty days from the end of the mandate.”
The Socialist Party of Catalonia, with favorable polls, feared that the pro-independence parties would take advantage of the new deadline to present coalitions and reorganize. They also feared the wear and tear of their candidate, then Minister of Health – in the middle of a pandemic – Salvador Illa.
The Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia decides: February 14
Amid the uncertainty, the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia decided to keep the election date. An individual seconded by various parties had appealed the postponement decree and the TSJC agreed with him, arguing his “public interest” and “not falling into provisionality.” In addition, the Court considered that the pandemic did not prevent holding the elections with guarantees. The sentence arrived just two weeks before the elections, with just time to start the electoral campaign.
A controversial candidate: the Minister of Health
Another factor in this complicated call is the fact that Health Minister Salvador Illa left office to run for the elections. The opposition criticizes the opportunism and that it has taken advantage of the visibility of the “hottest seat” of the Spanish Government in the last year. Others accuse him of abandoning the ship of the fight against the pandemic at a very difficult time.
Socialists defend their suitability for office. The CIS polls are favorable, for the first time in many years for the PSC and the non-independence parties.
While the leaders of the Catalan independence movement they are still out of the game due to the judicial drifts of the independence ‘Procés’ that led to a unilateral declaration of independence in 2017. The independence parties are quite divided in terms of the strategy to follow, compared to the last calls.
Health measures battery
In anticipation of the TSJC keeping the electoral date, the Catalan Government had already prepared some security protocols. Voting by mail has been promoted where possible.
Voting centers have multiplied to avoid crowds. To the point that Catalonia has had to borrow ballot boxes from other communities. Voting in large venues is favored, allowing distances of 2.5 meters and well ventilated to be maintained.
The famous Nou Camp of FC Barcelona will become a gigantic electoral college.
The figure of the person in charge of health security has been created, who will organize and supervise the measures in the schools.
The most spectacular: the participants at the polling stations will receive comprehensive individual protection equipment, such as that of the toilets on the front line, which they will have to wear in the last time slot of the day: between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., when they vote COVID-19 patients and people in quarantine due to suspected coronavirus.
In primary care centers, antigen testing is being carried out on everyone called to the polling stations.
The epidemiologist Oriol Mitjà sent a letter to the Central Electoral Board so that people who tested positive for the coronavirus did not have to go to vote, but it was denied. “It is a risk for people who do not have training in using PPE properly,” he justified his concern, arguing that in the United States elections last November there were infections at the polling stations.
Empty polling stations?
Under these conditions, many people are afraid to participate in the polling stations. In Spain polling stations are formed by lottery and you must have a legal reason to reject it. Among the allegations that can be presented for not attending are, being over 65 years of age, being ill, pregnant or presenting a disability.
According to provisional figures collected by Radio Televisión Española24,000 summoned to participate in the polling stations have presented allegations not to participate, 30% of the total, an unprecedented figure.
Even so, the Catalan Government 99% of the tables have enough members to be constituted – thanks to a large number of substitutes and some repetitions of the draws – and guarantees that the results will be known that same night, given the fears that the desertions of the tables could force to delay the publication.
Nevertheless some polls they augur record abstention. Others, somewhat more optimistic, estimate that participation will remain around 58%, low, but far from the record of 54.8% that marked the fourth reelection of Jordi Pujol in 1992. The second lowest participation was in 2006 (56 , 77%), anticipated and that were celebrated on the bridge of the feast of All Saints and after the implosion of the Tripartite Government with the controversy of the Statute of Autonomy.