TIME Spain

Catalonian Vote for Independence Could Lead to Compromise

SPAIN-CATALONIA-VOTE
Pro-independence activists attend a meeting after a symbolic vote on independence for Catalonia from Spain at a polling station in Barcelona on Nov. 9, 2014. Josep Lago—AFP/Getty Images

More than 80% of Catalans who voted in symbolic poll want independence

Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If yes, do you want that state to be independent? After tremendous controversy and a long wait—some put it at months, others at centuries—Catalans finally had the chance to answer those questions publicly. On November 9, 2.3 million went to the polls to vote on secession from Spain. The results represented a triumph for the pro-independence movement, not only because they managed to pull it off in the face of fierce Spanish opposition, but because the returns were so overwhelmingly in their favor: nearly 80.76% answered those two questions in the affirmative.

If Catalonia were Scotland, its leaders would have awoken this morning to begin the awesome challenge of decoupling their nation from the central state that has ruled it for centuries. Instead, they woke flushed, but wondering what comes next. Unlike David Cameron, who agreed to honor the results of the Scottish independence referendum, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has declared any Catalan referendum—including yesterday’s straw poll—unconstitutional. That fact, coupled with a level of participation yesterday that was overwhelming but may not translate into an absolute majority, has left as much uncertainty as it has euphoria.

“Our citizens have shown that they want to rule themselves,” said Catalan president Artur Mas as he spoke to the media after the polls closed, and promised to push for a binding referendum. And although he called the voting a “total success,” he also noted that it was symbolic.

Certainly in terms of its peacefulness and orderliness, the poll was a victory. Although there had been rumors of an increased police presence in the region, and President Mas had gone so far as to tell the mayors and volunteers that they “needn’t be afraid” about what might happen on Sunday, the voting took place in an atmosphere far more festive than tense. Instagram and Twitter were filled with images of long lines at polling places and selfies of people happily holding up their ballots.

That said, there was no shortage of efforts to impede the vote, even as it was underway. In the months and weeks leading up to November 9, the Spanish constitutional court twice suspended the straw poll, and as late as the evening before, the attorney general’s office declared that it was investigating whether the use of schools and other public institutions for polling represented a crime. Overnight, locks were placed on the doors of several polling places, and early on the morning of the 9th, hackers sent out a press release purporting to be a letter of resignation from the leader of the Catalan National Assembly, a pro-independence organization that has spearheaded the referendum movement. In Girona, a group of skinheads tried to destroy a ballot box (they were promptly arrested). But a demand that the regional police identify the people in charge of each polling place never materialized, and a court ruled against one political party’s last-ditch judicial effort to have the ballot boxes seized. When the mayor of Horta San Joan decided that he would not open a polling place in his town, president Mas’ political party (CiU) simply paid for a bus to transport residents who wanted to vote to the nearest ballot box.

Indeed, the Spanish government looked the other way as 1317 municipalities opened polling stations, and in the end, slightly over 40% of Catalonia’s roughly 5.4 million eligible voters went to the polls.

Those numbers matter, even if the vote legally doesn’t. “Even though it’s a simulacrum, pro-independence partisans take it very seriously,” says Carles Castro, political analyst for the Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia. “It’s a thermometer of what they could expect in a real referendum.”

Because the straw poll did not contain the electoral guarantees of a true referendum, and was organized and promoted entirely by pro-sovereignty groups, it was largely expected that those opposed to independence would not turn up to vote (and indeed, the percentage of returns against both statehood and independence was a mere 4.5%; an additional 10% voted in favor of statehood—meaning greater autonomy within a federal-style system—but rejected independence). If yesterday’s poll is indeed an accurate reflection of what Catalonia could expect in a binding referendum with greater electoral guarantees and a high level of participation, then somewhere between 40 and 50% of the total eligible population would vote in favor of independence.

“The results really strengthen Mas’ position,” says Ferran Requejo, professor of political science at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University. But they also present the pressing problem of what to do next. Both the hardline independence party Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the massive pro-independence civil association, Catalan National Assembly (ANC) agreed to support the alternative consultation Mas arranged after the Spanish court shot down a more official one only in exchange for early regional elections. Those elections, it is thought, would function as a plebiscite on independence. And if current polls are any indication, ERC—a party that has called for a unilateral declaration of independence–would win them, not only putting Mas out of a job, but throwing Spain into constitutional crisis. “So he’s going to have to negotiate with ERC,” Requejo says. “Mas will only agree to early elections if they have a joint list, with him as number one, and Junqueras (leader of ERC) as number two.”

He’s also going to have to do some negotiating with the Spanish prime minister, who until this point has refused all dialogue, even on things like restructuring the fiscal system under which Catalonia operates. For some, the fact that Rajoy’s government essentially turned a blind eye while yesterday’s vote took place suggests that it may be softening. “I sincerely believe it’s possible that there’s going to be some kind of rapprochement, an invitation to negotiate,” says analyst Castro. “The ball is in Madrid’s court.”

If Madrid accepts the challenge, the Catalan situation may prove more like the Scottish one than previously suspected. After the ‘Yes,’ movement lost its bid for independence, Cameron promised to devolve greater power and autonomy to Scotland. If Rajoy takes the opportunity to do the same, agreeing, for example, to a more federal system, he just may avoid a another referendum—and almost certain rupture—down the line.

TIME Spain

Most Catalans Want Independence From Spain According to an Informal Vote

Spain Catalonia Independence
Pro independence supporters celebrate the results of an informal poll for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Emilio Morenatti—AP

The poll was organized by pro-independence groups after a Spanish court rejected a formal referendum

More than 80% of people in Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region support full independence, an informal vote organized by pro-independence activists revealed on Sunday.

Catalonia’s Vice President Joana Ortega said over two million people took part in the poll, the BBC reports.

“We have earned the right to a referendum,” said Catalan President Artur Mas, hailing the results of the non-binding vote. A Spanish constitutional court had earlier rejected a formal referendum to decide the fate of the region.

Catalans have been pushing for independence for years, citing economic and cultural alienation from the rest of the country.

But the Spanish government dismissed the poll as invalid.

“The government considers this to be a day of political propaganda organized by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity,” Spain’s Justice Minister Rafael Catala said in a statement.

Read more at BBC

TIME Spain

Catalans to Hold Controversial Independence Vote This Weekend

Catalonia Separatist Rally Barcelona Spain
People attend the last Pro-Independence rally before the unofficial Catalan independence vote in Barcelona on Nov. 7, 2014. David Ramos—Getty Images

Spanish government is expected to look the other way rather than use force to prevent the ballot

When is a referendum not a referendum? Like Scotland, the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia is home to many who dream of independence. On November 9, they will get their chance to vote on whether or not they wish to separate from Spain. Unlike the Scottish case, however, that vote is non-binding. It is also, according to the Spanish government, illegal. So while the decision of the country’s Constitutional Court to suspend the act has not dissuaded the pro-independence movement from going ahead with the polling, it has left both Catalans and Spaniards wondering what Sunday’s vote will mean.

A vote on independence has been a long time coming. Although many Catalans have historically felt themselves to be separate from Spain because of their distinct language and culture, that sentiment only began to coalesce into a drive for sovereignty in 2010, when the Spanish constitutional court ruled on the revised statutes outlining Catalan autonomy, and outraged many in the region by striking down a proposed preamble that referred to Catalonia as a ‘nation.’ The economic crisis compounded the disillusionment; as Spain’s wealthiest region, Catalonia felt that it was paying a disproportionate amount to keep the central government afloat. In 2012, 1.5 million Catalans took the occasion of their regional holiday to pour into the streets for unexpected demonstration in favor of independence. Spurred by their enthusiasm—and seeing in it a much-needed boost for flagging public support for his government–Catalan president Artur Mas quickly adopted a vote on independence as his government’s primary goal.

Three years later, that goal has eclipsed all others. Although barred from legally holding the vote, Mas is under tremendous pressure from other pro-sovereignty parties, whose support his government needs to do survive. Which is why he chose his words so carefully when he spoke on November 5 to the Forum Europa, a political organization. “We are maintaining the participatory process of November 9th.We will do what we have to do to defend the country. And we are determined to do so.”

That may sound steadfast, but in that carefully-selected name, “participatory process”, lies evidence of diminishing ambitions. Under this alternative, the government will not officially convene the vote, which means that municipalities have the option not to hold them. Nor will it organize electoral registers—citizens register simply by showing up to vote. “It’s become more like a demonstration,” says Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen political scientist, and director of the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change. “It’ll be like another version of that big march that a million people turned out for.”

Because the Spanish constitution bars referenda on secession, even the initial ‘consultation’ that Mas’s government proposed would not have been binding. But movement leaders hoped that an outpouring of support for independence would be enough to garner international support. “That’s exactly what they expected,” says Keating. “That Europe would see what was happening, and come and tell Spain, ‘you have to let this happen. But Europe doesn’t do that. They didn’t intervene in Scotland; they said, ‘It’s none of our business, it’s up to the UK.’ And they’re not going to intervene in Spain.”

It remains unclear what role the government will play in Sunday’s vote. Although the vast majority of the region’s municipalities have agreed to open a polling place, they are not, under the new formulation, required to do so, and it has been suggested that much of the organizing will be left in the hands of pro-independence civic organizations like the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, which on Wednesday began a massive calling campaign to get out the vote. That kind of effort has made it increasingly clear that the only people who will turn up to cast their ballot are independence supporters; opponents will boycott it, or simply stay home.

“It still has sense,” says political scientist José Ignacio Torreblanca, director of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, of the vote. “But only as a way for the independence movement to test its own relative strength. They need to count their supporters, and this will allow them to do that.”

If the goals of the independence movement for Sunday’s vote have diminished, so too has the ferocity of the Spanish government’s response. Although there were media reports in October that it had sent squads of anti-riot police to the region, and Mas himself urged people this week not “to be afraid,” the government currently seems disposed to look the other way during the polling. As if to prove the point, deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría used a press conference after today’s weekly cabinet meeting to suggest that Mas restrain from requiring others to comply with his decision. “If he considers himself…above the law, he shouldn’t make a single civil servant adopt attitudes that he or she is the least bit uncomfortable with.

“It’s Kafkaesque,” says Torreblanca. “The independentists are going ahead with a vote that doesn’t have the meaning they want it to, and the Spanish government is turning a blind eye to something it says is illegal. It’s a sufficiently bad option for everyone, but it’s not the very worst option for anyone. So better not to call things by their real names.”

At the ANC, the name they’re giving Sunday’s vote is “a step.” The organization, which has spearheaded the push toward independence, agreed to support Mas’ alternative ‘process’ only if he called government elections in the next three months—elections which would function effectively as a plebiscite on independence. They’re still waiting for an answer. But in the meantime, explains ANC volunteer consultant Ana Rosenfeld of the polling, “It’s a step. It’s not the definitive step we wanted—we need to take more. But we have to do this for dignity’s sake. We can’t allow the Spanish government to impede our right to vote.”

 

TIME Spain

Spain Looks to Halt Catalonia Independence Vote

Mas signs decree for non-binding Catalinian independence referendum
Thousands of people attend a rally to support the referendum on Catalonia's independence in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain on Sept. 11, 2014. Alberto Estevez—EPA

Following Scottish rejection of independence from U.K.

Spain’s leader said Monday that he will ask the country’s Constitutional Court to annul a new law that would allow the semi-autonomous Catalonia region to hold a referendum on independence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s move, reported by BBC, follows a decree signed Saturday by Catalonia’s President Artur Mas calling for a Scottish-style referendum on independence to be held on Nov. 9. Spain’s central government quickly denounced the move, and Rajoy called the new Catalan law “anti-democratic” and said the vote “is not compatible with the Spanish constitution.”

Catalonia is home to 7.5 million people and is one of the most wealthy and most industrialized areas in Spain. Pro-independence sentiment in the region has surged in the years following Spain’s economic crisis. On Sept. 19, Catalonian lawmakers voted by a margin of 106 to 28 in favor of authorizing the referendum. Mas believes he can use local laws to hold the regional vote because it would be non-binding. He said “Catalonia wants to speak; it wants to be heard and it wants to vote.”

Rajoy responded by saying “there is no one and nothing that can deprive Spaniards of their constitutional rights” since Spain’s constitution does not allow referendums on sovereignty that don’t include all Spaniards.

[BBC]

TIME Catalonia

Spain Says Catalonia Can’t Vote for Independence, But Catalans Will Go Ahead Anyway

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Demonstratorshold Catalan flags during a protest calling for independence from Spain in Barcelona, October 2013. JOSEP LAGO—AFP/Getty Images

"This will have no effect on the process," shrugs a Catalan government spokesman

In a Tuesday ruling, Spanish judges found Catalonia’s planned independence referendum to be unconstitutional, but secessionists in the Spanish autonomous region (called a “community” in Spain) have vowed to proceed regardless.

“This will have no effect on the process,” said the Catalan government’s spokesman Francesc Homs on local television.

Although stifled under the yoke of the Franco dictatorship, Catalonia has long felt cultural and linguistic disctinction from the rest of Spain. In recent years, it developed into a powerhouse of the nation’s economy. However, amid the country’s financial crisis, Madrid has been urging national unity.

“No one can unilaterally deprive the entire Spanish people of the right to decide on their future,” Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the parliament, which is due to debate the referendum on April 8.

Catalan leaders have compared their situation with Scotland’s, which will hold a referendum on independence in September, but the Spanish Constitutional Court found that the country’s charter does not allow such a poll.

Last September 11, Catalonia’s national day, hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a vast human chain across the region to call for independence. The referendum, if it goes ahead, is planned for Nov. 9.

[AFP]

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