BARCELONA, Spain – Secessionist parties that want Catalonia to break away from Spain but agree on little else were face tough political negotiations aimed at forming a regional coalition government to push their independence agenda, even though they got less than half the votes.
The "Together for Yes" pro-independence alliance won 62 seats in the 135-member parliament, six short of a majority, forcing it to seek support from an anti-establishment separatist party that detests Artur Mas, Catalonia's regional leader who called the vote. No meetings were set Monday.
The Popular Unity Candidacy party (CUP), which won 10 seats, has lambasted Mas for invoking unpopular austerity measures and insisting it would never support him to lead Catalonia's regional government.
While CUP leader David Fernandez says his party will help the larger "Together for Yes" side, analysts predicted a difficult negotiating courtship.
CUP is "in a tough spot: supporting Mas would antagonize its voter base, but forcing him to step down could paralyze the independence process," said Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consulting group.
While Mas claimed a victory for pro-secession forces gave his group "enormous strength to push this project forward," anti-secession parties played up the fact that the pro-independence parties won just 48 percent of the popular vote.
That happened because of a quirk in Spanish voting law gives votes from rural areas more value in selecting lawmaker seats than those from urban areas. And in Catalonia, there is more support for secession in less-populated areas.
CUP has insisted that it would join an independence bid only if secessionist parties won more than 50 percent of the vote.
Under the 41-year-old Fernandez, CUP has succeeded regionally in tapping into the same anger at austerity measures exploited by far-left European parties like Syriza in Greece.
Catalans, he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week, need to claim their sovereignty as a nation from a Spanish state he sees as having little respect for Catalonia and is an enthusiastic participant in a global capitalist economy he labels as "a war machine that robs, kills and lies."
Mas — regional president since 2010 and head of the Convergence party that has played a key role in Catalan politics for decades — is not likely to give up easily. Formerly opposed to independence, he has championed the cause over the past five years after the Madrid government snubbed his bid for more regional financial powers.
The threat of Catalonia breaking away from Spain has been a constant source of dispute between Mas and the ruling conservative Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which rejects Catalan independence as unconstitutional.
Rajoy must call general election by the year's end with polls suggesting his party will lose its majority in the national parliament. His Popular Party took a beating in the Catalan elections, winning just 11 seats, eight fewer than in the previous legislature.
The pro-business, anti-independence Citizens party won 25 seats, up from nine.
Giles reported from Madrid.