Grave Span­ish Con­sti­tu­tional Cri­sis: Cat­alo­nia May Se­cede

People's Review - - LEADER - BY PRABASI NEPALI

On Oc­to­ber 1, the re­gional au­ton­o­mous govern­ment of Cat­alo­nia held a ref­er­en­dum on to­tal in­de­pen­dence from Spain. The cen­tral govern­ment in Madrid re­garded this as il­le­gal. Of the 43 per­cent of Cata­lans who re­port­edly voted, 90 per­cent were in favour of in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, most an­ti­in­de­pen­dence vot­ers boy­cotted the bal­lot. Cat­alo­nia's 7.5 mil­lion res­i­dents have their own lan­guage and cul­ture, but are di­vided on whether to break away from the rest of Spain. Cat­alo­nia's re­gional president Car­les Puigde­mont says his au­ton­o­mous ad­min­is­tra­tion has a man­date to de­clare in­de­pen­dence from what he says was an over­whelm­ing “Yes” vote on Oc­to­ber 1, marred by a heavy­handed po­lice crack­down on vot­ers. Many vot­ers who op­pose in­de­pen­dence stayed away from the ref­er­en­dum that was de­clared il­le­gal by Spain's Con­sti­tu­tional Court. The very low turnout calls into ques­tion the very va­lid­ity of the ref­er­en­dum. Spain's head of state, King Felipe VI weighed in and cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nounced Cata­lan President Puigde­mont and other sep­a­ratist lead­ers who had or­ga­nized the ref­er­en­dum as hav­ing “bro­ken the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples of the rule of law” and showed “dis­re­spect to the pow­ers of the state.” Last Satur­day, the cen­tral govern­ment in Madrid an­nounced that it was sus­pend­ing Cat­alo­nia's au­ton­o­mous sta­tus af­ter the re­gion's leader warned he may de­clare in­de­pen­dence, herald­ing an un­prece­dented es­ca­la­tion of the coun­try's worst con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis in decades. Madrid had given Puigde­mont an ul­ti­ma­tum un­til Thurs­day to an­nounce whether or not he was declar­ing a break­away state in the au­ton­o­mous re­gion, but the re­gional leader un­der in­tense pres­sure do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, pre­var­i­cated. In the mean­time, Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter warned he would trig­ger Ar­ti­cle 155 of Spain's con­sti­tu­tion (to “re­store le­gal­ity” in the re­gion) – al­low­ing it to im­pose di­rect rule over the wealthy north­east­ern re­gion bor­der­ing France – un­less Barcelona (the re­gional cap­i­tal) backed down. This ar­ti­cle had never been ap­plied be­fore. Puigde­mont had coun­tered in a let­ter to Ra­joy that Cata­lan law­mak­ers could vote to de­clare in­de­pen­dence uni­lat­er­ally if Madrid trig­gered Ar­ti­cle 155: “If the cen­tral govern­ment per­sists in pre­vent­ing di­a­logue and con­tin­u­ing re­pres­sion, Cat­alo­nia's par­lia­ment could pro­ceed. .to vote for a for­mal dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence”, adding that an am­bigu­ous “sus­pended” in­de­pen­dence dec­la­ra­tion he is­sued last week did not amount to se­ces­sion. Last Satur­day in Madrid PM Mar­i­ano Ra­joy called an emer­gency cabi­net meet­ing to set in mo­tion Ar­ti­cle 155 and to spec­ify how it will take con­trol of the re­gion. There are now fears that such a move, al­low­ing the cen­tral govern­ment to po­ten­tially sus­pend the au­ton­o­mous govern­ment in Barcelona and take over its po­lice force, could spark un­rest in a re­gion where even Cata­lans who op­pose in­de­pen­dence cher­ish their au­ton­omy highly. Ar­ti­cle 155 al­lows the cen­tral govern­ment to im­pose di­rect rule, but does not give the govern­ment the power to fully sus­pend au­ton­omy. Spain's King Felipe VI in­ter­vened a sec­ond time in the Cat­alo­nia se­ces­sion cri­sis. He said force­fully that Cat­alo­nia “is and will re­main” an es­sen­tial part of the coun­try, and that the Cata­lan govern­ment was caus­ing a rift and Spain would solve the prob­lem through demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. Madrid has now taken dras­tic steps to stop the re­gion from break­ing away by dis­solv­ing its sep­a­ratist govern­ment and forc­ing snap re­gional elec­tions within six months as a way of dif­fus­ing the state of ex­treme ten­sion. How­ever, there is no guar­an­tee that such a strat­egy would pro­vide a clear so­lu­tion to the dam­ag­ing cri­sis; more­over, it is a double-edged sword. Al­ready on Satur­day, there were mas­sive street protests in Barcelona against any form of di­rect rule; more can be ex­pected in all parts of the re­gion. Pro-in­de­pen­dence forces could also boy­cott any elec­tion im­posed on the re­gion, rendering it a farce. The pro-in­de­pen­dence forces could also turn the ta­bles on Madrid in an im­posed re­gional elec­tion. They could style the fresh elec­tion as one for a “con­stituent assem­bly' for a new repub­lic as the next stage in the se­ces­sion­ists' road map. If all par­ties in the au­ton­o­mous re­gion par­tic­i­pated, vot­ers would be bound to con­strue the elec­tion as a de facto ref­er­en­dum on full-blown in­de­pen­dence. This time around, a more con­vinc­ing sep­a­ratist ma­jor­ity could very well emerge, forc­ing the Madrid govern­ment into a ma­jor dilemma. The vi­tal point is whether Cat­alo­nia would/could be a vi­able coun­try? US pro­poses US-India Axis to counter Ris­ing China The United States Sec­re­tary of State (SoS) Rex Tiller­son vowed last week that the US would work with India in pref­er­ence to China over the next cen­tury to pro­mote a “free and open” Asia-Pa­cific re­gion led by pros­per­ous democ­ra­cies, in­clud­ing also Ja­pan and Aus­tralia. First, this was an overt recog­ni­tion of India as Amer­ica's strate­gic part­ner in the long term. Sec­ond, this was an en­dorse­ment of India as the pre­dom­i­nant power in South Asia – stretch­ing from Iran in the west to Myanmar in the southeast. This will have ram­i­fi­ca­tions for all the coun­tries of the re­gion. As a corol­lary of the fore­go­ing, third, the US ac­knowl­edges India's se­cu­rity in­ter­ests in the re­gion vis-à-vis China and Pak­istan. This also means that the US has ba­si­cally given up on Pak­istan as a ‘ma­jor non-NATO ally' and con­sid­ers this coun­try ba­si­cally within China's sphere of in­flu­ence. In sub­stance, the US now em­braces India's po­si­tion in the sim­mer­ing Si­noIn­dian and Indo-Pak­istan bor­der/ ter­ri­to­rial con­flicts. Specif­i­cally, the US en­cour­ages India's role in Afghanistan and re­jects Pak­istan's search for ‘strate­gic depth'. In Nepal's im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hood, the US tac­itly ac­knowl­edges India's role as the ‘pro­tect­ing power' in Bhutan visà-vis China in the Sino-Bhutan bor­der dis­putes, in­clud­ing the ‘Dok­lam Plateau'. This pre­cludes any di­rect Sino-Bhutanese ne­go­ti­a­tion, or the es­tab­lish­ment of bi­lat­eral diplo­matic re­la­tions any time soon. Fourth, the US em­braces India as a pre­dom­i­nant power in the In­dian Ocean to con­trol the strate­gic sea routes to the Per­sian Gulf, the Suez Canal (through the Red Sea), the Malacca Straits to the Pa­cific Ocean, and also to South Africa and Aus­tralia. India's role in the Pa­cific will thus also be en­hanced. SoS Tiller­son was enun­ci­at­ing a new US pol­icy of a mini Amer­i­can-In­dian axis, but also a grand coali­tion of the US, India, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia to ba­si­cally ‘con­tain' China. The tim­ing of SoS Tiller­son's un­ex­pect­edly sharp (in­di­rect) mes­sage to China is sig­nif­i­cant. He de­liv­ered it on the same day President Xi Jin­ping opened the five-yearly congress of the dom­i­nat­ing Com­mu­nist Party which sig­nals ei­ther a change of lead­er­ship at the very top, or a con­fir­ma­tion of the cur­rent one for a fur­ther fiveyear term. President Xi not only se­cured his long-term con­trol of what is al­ready one of the most pow­er­ful Chi­nese lead­er­ships in his­tory, he did so ri­val­ing that of Mao Ze­dong and Deng Xiop­ing. The Chi­nese can only in­ter­pret Tiller­son's ad­dress as ex­tremely provoca­tive. So Rex Tiller­son's bullish speech was def­i­nitely de­signed to set the stage for a cru­cial visit this week to China's main Asian ri­val India, and to lay out a vi­sion for a 100-year “strate­gic part­ner­ship” be­tween Washington and New Delhi. He also pit the US and India –the world's “two great­est democ­ra­cies”– with China, which he said was un­der­min­ing the “rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der”, con­ve­niently for­get­ting that his own boss was do­ing the same on many fronts, and call­ing him a ‘ mo­ron' se­cretly! Washington and New Delhi have been build­ing stronger ties for some time, but Tiller­son made one of the clear­est cases that the “shared val­ues” un­der­pin­ning the re­la­tion­ship make the two coun­tries ideal part­ners: “The United States and India are in­creas­ingly global part­ners with grow­ing strate­gic con­ver­gence” and “share a vi­sion for the fu­ture.” Is India about to aban­don its for­eign pol­icy of avoid­ing ‘en­tan­gling al­liances'? The US State Depart­ment made it clear that Tiller­son's speech was both a warn­ing and a re­buke to China. The idea of a “New Pa­cific” was now a pri­or­ity for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. In con­crete terms, this would mean a four-way ar­range­ment of the US, India, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia to “an­chor” the huge re­gion and set stan­dards for trade and se­cu­rity. The new greater axis promised pros­per­ity and se­cu­rity in a free and open “Indo-Pa­cific”. Has a new re­gional con­cept been born?

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