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Only the PSUC - the old Catalan communist party - had been able to win as many as nine councillors in the Barcelona City Council, and that was way back in 1979. When Ada Colau appeared in the Barcelona mayoral race in 2015, this political space had become accustomed to electing between two and, at the most, five councillors, for much of this time in the hands of PSUC successor, Iniciativa per Catalunya, which closely followed in the electoral wake of the Socialists (PSC) as essential partners. But in 2015 Ada Colau, after gaining popularity as an anti-eviction activist and swept along by the Podemos wave that was breaking over the whole of the Spanish state, managed to flip the omelette in Barcelona: she positioned herself as the strongest force in the election with 25.2% of votes and won 11 seats, while the PSC went into free fall with just 4 councillors. 

Evolution of % of votes won by parties in Barcelona municipal elections (1979-2019)  

In 2015, when Colau became the first woman to assume the mayoralty of the Catalan capital, her Barcelona en Comú (BComú) alliance prevailed unquestionably in the territories where the PSC had reigned, but the Comuns also penetrated the space of Convèrgencia - the old centre-right Catalan nationalist party. Colau's campaign painted six of the 10 districts of the city with the purple of BComú, or broken down further, 54 of the 73 neighbourhoods of Barcelona.

Four years later, in 2019, Colau lost 5% of her vote and finished in second place behind Ernest Maragall, tying with the Republican Left (ERC) candidate at 10 councillors a piece on the 41-seat council. However, she reached an accord with the PSC of Jaume Collboni and accepted the votes of the Ciudadanos candidacy under former French PM Manuel Valls, who was willing to side with the Comuns candidate in order to shut a pro-independence council out of the capital of Catalonia. It was the first time in the 11 elections in the post-Franco era that the mayoral office in Barcelona had not gone to the party which won the most votes.

% of votes won by BComú in the 2019 municipal election, district by district.

Enter, Xavier Trias

The wear and tear of holding mayoral office through two legislatures, with problems of law and order and dirtiness, and controversies over planning initiatives, meant that this year Colau faced a difficult electoral task, which presented itself as a direct duel with the PSC and ERC, in a three-way struggle on the left in which the Socialists were set to be the main beneficiaries of exhaustion of the Colau administration. The electoral panorama, however, experienced a jolt with the decision to run by Xavier Trias at the head of the Together for Catalonia (Junts) candidacy, reaching out beyond the party, and waving the anti-Colau flag. "The entry of Trias was so strong that it activated many people who saw that it was for real," admits one of the Comuns strategists. Suddenly, the elections were presented as a face-off between the current mayor and her predecessor from 2011-15, which turned the planned scenario upside down and has mobilized Colau voters who were not bothered by the prospect of a relief led by a PSC government, but on the other hand, do not want a council led by Junts.

% of votes won by BComú in the 2019 municipal election, broken down by neighbourhoods.

Trias has managed to cast himself as the embodiment of the anti-Colau option, a role that could hardly have been assumed by the PSC, which has been part of the Colau governments, or by ERC, which approved its budgets. And, since his appearance on the scene, the mayor has been seeking hand-to-hand combat with the ex-mayor. Although the PSC has resisted the taunting and manages to remain in the leading places, according to the polls, the bipolarization of the campaign discourse, since the appearance of the ex-Convergència mayor, has put ERC into a bind. This trend, however, worries the Comuns, who admit that would not like to see the collapse of the ERC candidate's campaign. For one, because ERC has become one of the main channels that feeds the Junts vote, but also, because to the extent that ERC falls, one of the allies they are counting on for support to continue governing is weakened. "In Barcelona, Catalonia and the Spanish state, budgets have beem passed voted by the same parties", they recall, when this issue is raised. That is, the Socialists, the alternative left of the Comuns and Podemos, and ERC.  

A left-wing pact

The Comuns intend to use in their favour the element that seems to be their main limitation: the post-electoral pacts. The polls show a very even picture in the leading positions. If Colau wins or finishes ahead of the PSC, the current mayor will probably only be able to govern by reaching an accord with the PSC and also seeking support from ERC, as she has done so far. This time, though, the Comuns will not have the Ciudadanos of Manel Valls awaiting in the corner as a plain-clothes bodyguard. Thus, the BComú campaign intends to hit the Socialists on the very issue of a post-electoral pact. In her speeches, the mayor is emphasizing the desire to repeat a left-wing agreement, given the ambiguity with which the PSC is playing, in its attempt to distance itself from the more controversial aspects of Colau's management. In fact, the Colau team considers the Socialist attempt to break with its city government after they had shared it for two legislatures to be doomed to failure and they regard it as "frivolous" that Jaume Collboni left his position as first deputy mayor just four months before the start of the campaign

This will be Colau's definitive battle. The definitive one in Barcelona. The mayor asserts that she will not run again for further mayoral elections in the Catalan capital. She plans to concentrate all her forces on this arm-wrestle. She has no intention of going outside city limits except for some - minimal - incursions. Those from outside are, however, coming to her - visits from state leaders, in particular Yolanda Díaz, with three appearances in the Comuns campaign, although more for her own benefit than to promote the candidate. The mayor is aware that, with a high percentage of voters undecided, the campaign will be key. Therefore, she is closely controlling each and every one of her campaign appearances.