By Daniel Kselman, Academic Director of International Relations at IE School of International Relations, and Jose Piquer, Director of the Bachelor in International Relations at IE School of International Relations.
This Sunday, Dec. 20, Spaniards will go to the polls in one of the most unpredictable elections since the country’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s. For the last three decades Spain’s politics have been dominated by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE). Now for the first time, the centrist Citizens and the leftist Podemos, or We Can, parties are challenging the two dominant organizations.
One thing is certain: The day after the election the next prime minister will be forced to address the question of Catalan secession. In Catalonia, a northern Spanish region that makes up 16 percent of Spain’s total population and produces 19 percent of its total gross domestic product, pro-independence parties are pushing ahead with a historic plan for an independent state.
Since the onset of economic crisis in 2008, nationalist politicians in Catalonia have increasingly clamored for independence. In the regional elections of September 2015 Catalan nationalist parties  won an absolute majority of seats (though not votes) in the 135-seat regional assembly. Last month this majority, led by regional governor Artur Mas, approved a measure in the Catalan parliament to formally begin the process of breaking away from Spain. The parliament outlined a plan for the region’s independence by 2017.
The Madrid government challenged the resolution in the Constitutional Court, which suspended the motion and declared it unconstitutional. Grounded in this legal position, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s argument to the Catalan secessionists has been simple: Spain’s constitution forbids such a referendum, so don’t do it. This position has been matched by a similar position from Albert Rivera, leader of the centrist Citizens party, which looks poised to emerge as a powerful political force in Sunday’s general election.
The socialists of PSOE have also rejected a referendum on independence, but have proposed a constitutional reform in the next legislature to transform Spain into a truly federal system. But Podemos has committed itself to an independence referendum in one year, arguing that Catalonia has a legal right to decide, and proposing a new constitutional definition of Spain as a ‘pluranational’ state (see table).
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