Against all odds Artur Mas didn't win the "exceptional majority" he had asked the Catalan people to give him in order to lead the independence process with confidence. Convergència i Unió suffered a major setback and whilst remaining the most voted party, their seats dropped from 62 in 2010 to 50 in 2012. This result placed a massive question mark over Catalonia's immediate political future because Mas's gamble in favour of an independent state for Catalonia hadn't had the positive result he'd expected.
The PP and PSOE leaders in Madrid breathed a sigh of relief and the PP number two, Maria Dolores de Cospedal described the election result as "a failure for the secessionist adventure".
The truth is that it wasn't so much a failure for the secessionist adventure as a personal failure for Artur Mas. Those in favour of independence for Catalonia had spread their votes about, particularly in favour of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, who with 21 seats became the second force in the Catalan Parliament. The independence debate had an effect on the Unionist vote with Ciutadans, whose progression from 3 seats to 9, made them the main beneficiary along with Partido Popular, whose 19 seats gave them one more than their tally of 18 in 2010. The massive turnout for the elections of almost 70% divided between just showed the plurality of the political scene in Catalonia.
With 50 seats out of 135 in the Parliament there was no alternative to a government including Convergència i Unió but the Catalanist federation wouldn't be able to govern alone. They were 18 seats short of a majority, which wasn't such a challenge regarding the investiture of Mas as president but definitely a problem as far as pushing the budget through and administering the economic crisis was concerned. In theory, CiU could reach an agreement with ERC, PSC or PP.
CiU's pro-independence position and Partido Popular's underhand tactics during the campaign made an understanding between the Catalan and Spanish conservatives virtually impossible. The austerity measures that, given its lack of solvency, the government of the Generalitat would inevitably have to apply also made agreements with the more left-wing PSC and ERC very difficult. However, given the position of both parties in independence, it was clear the ERC was the most likely partner.
Mas immediately commented on the difficulty of the situation as soon as the results were in when he said, "We don't have enough support to lead the government and the (independence) process. The people have told us that they want us to be more accompanied along the way ... so it will be necessary for other parties to have a think and make a commitment."
Although he didn't mention them it was clear that the message was directed towards Esquerra Republicana, when he said that the independence process hadn't been "aborted" and "the country won't have to give up its objectives". So it was clear that he was only considering a government with ERC or a situation which he himself described as "ungovernable".
The combination of the four parties, CiU (50), ERC (21), ICV-EUiA (13) and CUP (3), in favour of the Right to Decide, came to 87 seats. Oriol Junqueras, the leader of ERC, whose party was clearly the main beneficiary of the results, having doubled the number of seats, said that he would consider Mas's proposals seriously.
With Mas's poor result capturing the headlines, less attention was paid to PSC's disastrous drop to third position with 20 seats, 8 fewer than in 2010. Catalan socialism was obviously in crisis, which would in inevitably affect Spanish socialism, and so few votes in Catalonia would make it very difficult for PSOE to govern Spain.
As far as the Partido Popular were concerned, their anti-independence position obviously camouflaged the effects of the cuts imposed by Mariano Rajoy's Spanish government. With 19, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho's party had won one more seat than in 2010, which along with CiU's setback was celebrated as a major victory.
However, the best results were for Ciutadans, who tripled their representation going from 3 to 9 seats. C's leader Albert Rivera's confidence was so high that, despite having 41 seats less than CiU, he demanded Artur Mas's resignation.
There were also celebrations at Iniciativa's headquarters, who with 13 seats gained their best result since their formation out of PSUC. On the negative side, ICV leaders felt that hadn't fully taken advantage of PSC's decline as some of their votes had been mopped up by ERC and the far-left CUP, who had entered the Parliament of Catalonia for the first time.