Catalan public broadcaster TV3 this Monday saw an election debate hijacked by article 155. For the first time, not one, but two candidates couldn't take part: president Carles Puigdemont and vice-president Oriol Junqueras couldn't go to the studios in Sant Joan Despí on the outskirts of Barcelona. The first, exiled in Brussels, and the second, imprisoned in Estremera jail. This and nothing else should be the first headline of a debate at times electric and at others tedious, which went from the coup d'état carried out by the Spanish senate and the PP government to schooling in Catalan and linguistic immersion. An epithet for each of the seven participants: Jordi Turull, incisive; Marta Rovira, intense; Inés Arrimadas, conjurer; Miquel Iceta, prudent; Xavier Domènech, uncomfortable; Xavier García Albiol, police-like and Carles Riera, combative.
It wasn't a debate of great novelties. In any case, it made it clear that the political blocs which Catalonia has been divided into aren't imaginary, but real. Too real. Otherwise, why did Arrimadas and Iceta not attack each other despite their shared voter pool? Or Turull and Rovira? Surely because they all know that the results of election night this Thursday will be defined by whether or not there is a pro-independence majority in the next Catalan Parliament. That's the real question which still has no answer and which will decide the continuity of the legislature interrupted by Mariano Rajoy or turn over a page with a course unknown in the recent history of Catalonia. It's also what Europe is waiting for, to find out whether Rajoy's prediction to the heads of state and government that he would end with Catalan demands with article 155 was right or not.
In normal conditions, an election campaign in the exceptional situation of high political tension of the last months would have had various debates between two or even three at a time which is where the differences between the different candidates really stand out. A debate between Arrimadas and Junqueras would have had a large audience. Or another between Puigdemont and Iceta. To say nothing of one between Puigdemont and Junqueras, of a duel between Arrimadas and Iceta or the expectation and curiosity between Albiol and the candidates from CUP or Catalunya En Comú-Podem. But all that has been blocked by article 155, which has prepared a more tailored campaign, with the referee on its side. With the pro-independence leaders in exile or in prison and where the strongest messages in campaign events have been "to disinfect" or "to decapitate". A low-cost hunt of the independence movement.
The debate, held less than 24 hours before the end of the 21st December election campaign, could have been key in such a tight election in which the pro-independence side, although clearly leading, doesn't have a guaranteed absolute majority in the new Parliament. The photo finish will end up deciding the government of Catalonia for which the tiredness, the anger or the frustration the voters might be feeling are meaningless. Or maybe they were tired those who went to vote, against all odds and, above all, against disproportionate police action in the 1st October referendum?