Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Barça president Laporta aspires to a central role in Catalan politics

Originally published in Vilaweb on Wednesday, February 3, 2010

By Pere Cardús


The jump into politics by the president of F.C. Barcelona shakes up the current political map • Laporta's advisers study their options for success and prepare an effective strategy • He might present himself as a candidate on a "Laporta List"

The participation of Joan Laporta in the fall parliamentary elections, although still an unconfirmed hypothesis, may unleash a seismic shift in power between the current political parties. The difference between this case and those that have tended to appear on the edges is that Joan Laporta has the capacity to take center stage in the Catalan political spectrum, especially in terms of issues of sovereignty. The strategic key that his advisers and inner circle are studying is a platform of centrality that remains profoundly transforming. The fear of the traditional politcal parties is that his popularity will allow him to attract followers from every corner.

Laporta has said explicitly on more than one occasion that he would like to lead a new campaign that is the spearhead of the emerging expression of modern and unabashed independentism. This new sovereigntist movement has showcased itself these last few years with grass roots mobilizations that culminated last year in the referendums for the independence of Catalonia. Up to now, the blaugrana [blue-and-red*] president has resisted joining any political option with parliamentary representation and has partied with Joan Carretero's new Reagrupament [Regrouping*]. A radio appearance on RAC1 by Carretero (àudio) and declarations by Laporta in certain media make one think that this alliance is getting stronger and may begin to crystallize.

Joan Laporta will make the jump into politics after finishing his time at FC Barcelona, including renewing Coach Pep Guardiola's contract, setting the election date of June 13th for the new president, and presenting his successor, Alfons Godall. This has been made evident as the current Barça president has been dropping clues that are more and more clear, now that he has been able to put these three affairs in order which had been making it difficult for him to focus his attention on politics, and is advised by Joan Oliver and Xavier Sala-i-Martin of the Fundació Catalunya Oberta [Foundation for an Open Catalonia] and colleagues in the Barça front office.

On one hand, Laporta's strategy might point to grabbing followers of Convergència i Unió [Convergence and Union*]. Showing off his image of efficiency and professionality of the lawyer cum successful sporting club president would let Laporta seduce a significant portion of CiU's traditional base. The executive tone and the presentation of his successes managing Barça might attract many of those who earlier relied on Pujol* and Mas* for their managing skills. But he might also get support from CiU's base, which has evolved toward a sovereigntism that is expressed openly in favor of independence and that has participated in the referendum movement without the presence of Mas or his team.

The Laporta option also has possibilities of getting support from ERC* voters who have been disillusioned with the Republican role in the tripartit* [tri-party coalition]. An openly independentist stance that opts for a schedule of emancipation in the short term may well call the attention of Esquerra's base that just four years ago gave its support to Carod and to Puigcercós, but for whom the luster has dimmed somewhat given the long horizon in which this party situates Catalan sovereignty. After some years of speeches about balance and calls for small incremental changes*, an unabashed Laporta might pull a good portion of weary ERC voters to their feet.

Without parliamentary representation, the CUP* may see that a good portion of its municipal voters will now opt for supporting a choice headed by Joan Laporta. The CUP decided not to present its party in the parliamentary elections and has left its supporters without any political direction, and these may now feel attracted by the direct and simple talk of Laporta.

Surprisingly, Laporta may also erode some of PSC* and ICV's electoral base in the metropolitan area.
Sovereigntism has always had difficulties attracting significant support in Barcelona and especially in the metropolitan area. But the popularity and leadership of Joan Laporta may be key in entering this area in which PSC has had almost exclusive control for decades.

Finally, Laporta may collect the support of the majority of platforms and grass roots organizations that have taken the initiative in the struggle for independence. You only need to remember the reaction the blaugrana president received upon going to the September 11 demonstration in Barcelona last year. In this area, Laporta can use his image as a "political outsider" as well as his widespread appeal in order to offer a political choice to a constellation of entities, platforms, and groups that have appeared in the last few years. The president of FC Barcelona can also get the attention of the motivated sovereigntist citizen who has abstained in the last few elections and who can see confiding in a breakaway option that has emerged from the civil society where he had taken "refuge".

Politics is not a completely new business for Laporta. Note that he already participated in the adventures of Àngel Colom and Pilar Rahola's Partit per la Independència (PI) [Party for Independence], in the 90's. Laporta joined PI through Albert Perrin, with whom he also coincided on the Board of FC Barcelona.



*blue and red are the colors of F.C. Barcelona, Barcelona's premier football team.
*Reagrupament is the new independentist political movement/party headed by Joan Carretero
*Convergència i Unió (CiU), often abbreviated as just Convergència, is a federation of two political parties: Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya i Unió Democràtica de Catalunya
*Pujol is Jordi Pujol, long time leader of CiU, retired in 2003
*Artur Mas is the current leader of CiU.
*ERC is Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a leftist independentist party
*tripartit is the coalition of PSC (Socialist Party of Catalunya), ICV-EUiA (itself a coalition of Initiative for Catalonia Greens Party and United and Alternative Left Party), and ERC, formed in order to take the presidency of the Generalitat, despite that fact that CiU was the party with the most seats.
*This strategy in Catalan is called "fine rain"... like a mist that gently creeps into your bones without drenching you all at once, ERC's strategy is to pursue small, incremental changes that in the end add up to fundamental differences.
*CUP - Candidatura d'Unitat Popular, or Popular Unity Candidates party, a Catalan Indendentist party
*PSC - Socialist Party of Catalonia
*ICV - Initiative for Catalonia Greens