Spain’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis sharp­ens as Cat­alo­nia ref­er­en­dum cam­paign be­gins

Madrid launches le­gal of­fen­sive to thwart vote for in­de­pen­dence

The Irish Times - - World News - Guy Hedge­coe

Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange has de­scribed it as “the most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment in the West this year, by far” and it has al­ready thrown Spain into its deep­est po­lit­i­cal cri­sis of the mod­ern era. Cat­alo­nia’s Oc­to­ber 1st in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum might not even take place, given that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment deems it il­le­gal, but the cam­paign lead­ing up to it be­gan yes­ter­day.

The Cata­lan re­gional gov­ern­ment, led by Car­les Puigde­mont, is or­gan­is­ing the ref­er­en­dum and plans to de­clare in­de­pen­dence within 48 hours if the re­sult is Yes to se­ces­sion.

“What do you think will hap­pen on Oc­to­ber 1st? Of course we’ll vote!” he told sup­port­ers at a rally to open the cam­paign on Thurs­day in Tar­rag­ona. Hours ear­lier, Puigde­mont had made a fi­nal ap­peal to prime min­is­ter Mariano Ra­joy to ne­go­ti­ate a ref­er­en­dum in a let­ter he also sent to King Felipe.

But few ex­pect a pos­i­tive re­sponse. Once again this week, Ra­joy has re­jected sanc­tion­ing a self-de­ter­mi­na­tion vote, telling re­porters “there can not be a ref­er­en­dum and it would be an ab­so­lutely il­le­gal act”.

Given the de­ter­mi­na­tion on both sides, it is still un­clear what ex­actly will hap­pen on the day of the sched­uled vote.

Ra­joy’s Pop­u­lar Party (PP) gov­ern­ment has launched a le­gal of­fen­sive in a bid to thwart the process. It has ap­pealed to the con­sti­tu­tional court against a ref­er­en­dum law and a Bill lay­ing down the le­gal foun­da­tions for an in­de­pen­dent state, both ap­proved by the Cata­lan par­lia­ment in con­tro­ver­sial cir­cum­stances last week.

The court has sus­pended the two laws as it con­sid­ers the ap­peals, a move which means lit­tle to the Cata­lan lead­er­ship, which re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge the le­git­i­macy of the Span­ish ju­di­ciary.

May­ors tar­geted

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has also started pro­ceed­ings against the 712 of Cat­alo­nia’s 948 may­ors who have of­fered the use of pub­lic spa­ces in their towns as vot­ing sta­tions.

In ad­di­tion, the head of the re­gional po­lice, Josep Lluís Trap­ero, has been or­dered to seize bal­lot boxes due to be used for the ref­er­en­dum.

Yes­ter­day, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment is­sued a new, fi­nan­cial, threat say­ing it will seize con­trol of much of the Cata­lan bud­get if the re­gional ad­min­is­tra­tion re­fuses to pledge not to use any of its funds for the ref­er­en­dum.

Puigde­mont leads a broad se­ces­sion­ist front which claims its ma­jor­ity in the Cata­lan par­lia­ment gives it a man­date to push ahead with the bind­ing vote. But a poll pub­lished by the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment’s statis­tics in­sti­tute in late July showed sup­port for in­de­pen­dence had dipped to 41 per cent, with 50 per cent op­posed.

A con­cern for those hold­ing the ref­er­en­dum is the pos­si­bil­ity of a low turnout by No vot­ers who are de­terred by the ref­er­en­dum’s il­le­gal sta­tus. That might lead to a dis­torted re­sult that heav­ily favours in­de­pen­dence but which fails to rep­re­sent all Cata­lans.

Nonethe­less, those call­ing for in­de­pen­dence are bullish, not just about de­fy­ing Madrid’s le­gal ob­sta­cles but also about the re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum.

“I be­lieve the Yes [vote] can win and will win and will win with a good mar­gin to show the world there is a ma­jor­ity here in Cat­alo­nia that wants to be an in­de­pen­dent state,” Ra­mon Piqué, cam­paign man­ager for the Cata­lan Na­tional Assem­bly (ANC), the most vis­i­ble pro-in­de­pen­dence civic group, told The Ir­ish Times.

Last Mon­day, hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cata­lans turned out on the streets of Barcelona for the re­gion’s an­nual na­tional day, in a show of peace­ful force ahead of Oc­to­ber 1stthat was or­gan­ised by the ANC.

The Cata­lan gov­ern­ment re­ceived an­other boost last Thurs­day, when Barcelona mayor Ada Co­lau con­firmed that her ad­min­is­tra­tion will sup­port the ref­er­en­dum.

‘New le­gal sta­tus’

In a se­ries of tweets about the Cata­lan cri­sis posted on Thurs­day, Pode­mos leader Pablo Igle­sias called for the ne­go­ti­a­tion of a “new le­gal sta­tus for Cat­alo­nia within Spain, with more self-gov­ern­ment and recog­ni­tion as a na­tion” but not full in­de­pen­dence.

For the mo­ment, any such ne­go­ti­a­tion looks un­likely and the Cata­lan stand­off is start­ing to gain in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Junker of­fered a mixed mes­sage on the is­sue on Thurs­day, say­ing the EU would re­spect the rul­ings of the Span­ish courts, but adding: “If there were to be a Yes vote for Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence we would re­spect that choice.”

Car­les Puigde­mont: plans to de­clare in­de­pen­dence within 48 hours if re­sult is Yes

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