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In 2011, when the Spanish Congressional elections in Catalonia were won by CiU, with the Catalan Socialists losing seats alongside the electoral disaster of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero across Spain, and ERC only taking three deputies in the lower house, the possibility of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) running for a general election was not considered.  At the beginning of that decade, with the first steps of the Catalan independence process being taken, the radical left and Catalan sovereignist party was consolidating itself in town council politics, and in 2011 multiplied its previous municipal election results by five, gaining the representation of a hundred local councillors across Catalonia. At that point, they had not even presented a candidacy to the Parliament of Catalonia. It wasn't until a year later, in the 2012 elections that Artur Mas called early - with, for the first time, Catalan independence as the major issue on the agenda - that the CUP ran in the election for the Generalitat and took three seats in the Parliament with David Fernández at the head.

During the following years, they gained strength in Parliament, and above all played key pivotal roles in the process, but Congress was still regarded as a different sphere: once again, the CUP did not stand in the 2015 Spanish election, while Podemos and the Comuns not only ran but gained an electoral victory in Catalonia - which they repeated in the repeat election of June 2016. In those two elections, the CUP was calling for abstention at Spanish level - the same policy that part of the independence movement is now encouraging, albeit in a very different context: if it's now an expression of anger at not having achieved independence, in 2015, the anti-capitalists' position was that voting in Spanish elections meant "participating in a political framework that denies the rights of the Catalan countries". At that time, David Fernández affirmed that he would vote for ERC - specifically for Joan Tardà, who was then number two on the list, behind Gabriel Rufián.

A candidacy amid the storm of the political prisoner verdicts

It was the specific political circumstances of 2019 - and the two general elections held that year in the Spanish state - that changed the CUP's position. Since the previous Spanish vote, in June 2016, key events had taken place in Catalonia: the independence process centred on the October 1st referendum, and the imprisonment of some of the political leaders of the independence movement and the exile of others, including the CUP's Anna Gabriel. The situation was, all in all, drastically changed. But when Spain went into the election on April 28th and called by Pedro Sánchez after failing to pass his budget, the CUP chose not to participate and its space was occupied by the hastily assembled Republican Front led by Albano Dante Fachín, which failed to gain representation. Months later, after the inability of the Spanish parties to reach governing agreements, the election was repeated, and it was then that the CUP changed its mind. In those seven months between the two votes, the Supreme Court trial of the independence process leaders had ended and in mid-October, a month before the elections were held, the verdict was released.

Mireia Vehí, member of the party's national secretariat who became leader of the candidacy in Barcelona, explained why the CUP decided to take its battle to Madrid, just months after rejecting the idea. The CUP politician who has now been a deputy in Congress for the last three and a half years, argued at that moment that the radical left party had decided to run because of the "moment of exceptionality" being experienced in Catalonia, and thus it was responding to a "context of repression and criminalization of independence". There were still two weeks to go before the Supreme Court gave its verdict and the angry protests broke out. The CUP motto, "Ungovernable" was clear and forceful, encapsulating the attitude that it would take throughout the legislature, starting, for example, by voting "no" to the investiture of Pedro Sánchez in January 2020.


Needed: 2,000 votes for a third MP 

The objective of the party was, as they reiterated in the campaign, to break into Congress. And they achieved it with two deputies, Mireia Vehíand Albert Botran, both in the demarcation of Barcelona, seats they took away from ERC and En Comú Podem from the election of April 29th 2019. They finished as sixth largest party in Catalonia, with 246,971 votes, 6.42% of the total in Catalonia, beating the far right, although they won the same number of deputies in Congress as the PP, Ciutadans and Vox at Catalan level.

In the electorate of Girona, which, under the d'Hondt proportional voting system used in Spain, chooses six deputies to go to Madrid, the CUP won almost 9% of the votes and was just 2,000 ballots away from wresting a seat from En Comú Podem. This year, the head of the party's list for Girona will be the party's spokesperson in Madrid, Mireia Vehí, and the party has emerged strengthened from these last municipal elections, with the CUP's Lluc Salellas, candidate from Guanyem, as the new mayor of Girona after reach an agreement with the rest of the pro-independence parties. In Tarragona and Lleida, the CUP's 2019 results were more modest: in Tarragona, with 5.96%, they were being surpassed by the PP, Vox and Ciudadanos - although the last two parties didn't win seats in Congress either. In Lleida the CUP took 6.85% of votes, but was also very far from winning one of the constituency's six deputies.

The goal, a third anti-capitalist MP

Four years ago, with the slogan of "Ungovernable", the CUP demanded that "in no way" should Junts and ERC give support the investiture of Pedro Sánchez as prime minister, although in the end the Republicans abstained, making it possible. Mireia Vehí asserted this need for a Catalan blockade on the investiture on election night, after the party had broken into Congress. At that moment, she affirmed that her trip to Madrid was to make a "correction to the regime and spread the rebellion". Now, after a legislature in which the independence movement has taken a back seat in the lower house, largely due to the outbreak of the pandemic and the halting of the large mobilizations that this caused, the CUP has already set an almost impossible price on giving their votes to Pedro Sánchez: a date and question for a new independence referendum. Their objective is to put on the pressure, also through a new CUP deputy, in Girona, and to achieve a trio of voices in a chamber that was unknown to them four years ago.