Span­ish court sus­pends Cata­lan vote

Re­gional leader vows ‘tsunami of democ­racy’

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

MADRID: Spain’s con­sti­tu­tional court on Thurs­day sus­pended the call for a ref­er­en­dum on Cat­alo­nia’s in­de­pen­dence af­ter agree­ing to re­view an ap­peal by cen­tral au­thor­i­ties in Madrid.

The move was widely ex­pected af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment was chal­leng­ing both a con­tro­ver­sial law meant to le­git­imise the in­de­pen­dence vote and a de­cree signed on Wed­nes­day by the re­gional Cata­lan gov­ern­ment sum­mon­ing voters for the Oct 1 bal­lot.

The re­ac­tion to the court’s de­ci­sion by lead­ers in Cat­alo­nia, a pros­per­ous re­gion in north­east­ern Spain, also didn’t come as a sur­prise. Car­les Puigde­mont, the re­gional pres­i­dent and one of the main pro­mot­ers of the ref­er­en­dum, said that nei­ther cen­tral Span­ish au­thor­i­ties nor the courts could halt their plans.

“We will re­spond to the tsunami of law­suits with a tsunami of democ­racy,’’ Mr Puigde­mont told lo­cal broad­caster 8TV. He also boasted that more than 16,000 peo­ple had al­ready reg­is­tered on­line as vol­un­teers and that more than half of the may­ors in Cat­alo­nia were sup­port­ing the vote.

Spain’s con­sti­tu­tional court has pre­vi­ously ruled that a ref­er­en­dum can only be called with the approval of the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties. But Mr Puigde­mont’s proin­de­pen­dence coali­tion claims that the uni­ver­sal right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion over­rules Spain’s laws.

The Cat­alo­nia re­gion, cen­tered on Barcelona, gen­er­ates a fifth of Spain’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct and holds 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple. It self-gov­erns in sev­eral im­por­tant ar­eas, such as po­lice, health and ed­u­ca­tion. But key ar­eas such as taxes, for­eign af­fairs and most in­fra­struc­tures are in the hands of the Span­ish gov­ern­ment. Both Cata­lan and Span­ish are spo­ken, and many Cata­lans feel strongly about their cul­tural her­itage and tra­di­tions.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment called the move an at­tack against Spain’s and Cat­alo­nia’s in­sti­tu­tional or­der.

“That’s some­thing that the gov­ern­ment and the courts can’t al­low,” Mr Ra­joy said in a tele­vised ad­dress on Thurs­day fol­low­ing an ur­gent meet­ing of his cabi­net. “There won’t be a self-de­ter­mi­na­tion ref­er­en­dum be­cause that would be tak­ing away from other Spa­niards the right to de­cide their fu­ture.”

Mr Ra­joy is try­ing to strike a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween tamp­ing down the se­ces­sion­ist de­fi­ance yet stay­ing away from dra­matic mea­sures that would fur­ther in­flame an­tiS­pan­ish sen­ti­ments, such as sus­pend­ing Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­o­mous pow­ers or declar­ing a state of emer­gency, which could bring the mil­i­tary to the mix.

His con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has not dis­closed what other pos­si­ble ac­tions are in the pipe­line, but it has vowed to trig­ger all mea­sures in a “pro­por­tional” way and “with seren­ity”.

“The Con­sti­tu­tion can be mod­i­fied but through the rules and chan­nels es­tab­lished, never through dis­obe­di­ence,” Mr Ra­joy said.

The state pros­e­cu­tor, mean­while, an­nounced plans for law­suits ac­cus­ing Cata­lan of­fi­cials in­volved in the pos­si­ble ref­er­en­dum of dis­obe­di­ence, abuse of power and em­bez­zle­ment, among other charges.

One law­suit seeks to pun­ish mem­bers of the Cata­lan par­lia­ment who al­lowed the de­bate and the vote on the le­gal frame­work of the Oct 1 ref­er­en­dum. A sep­a­rate law­suit was aimed at Mr Puigde­mont and the other mem­bers of his cabi­net who signed the ref­er­en­dum de­cree.

Chief state pros­e­cu­tor Jose Manuel Maza said pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice forces in Cat­alo­nia have been told to in­ves­ti­gate and stop any ac­tions taken to cel­e­brate the ref­er­en­dum.

Busi­nesses who print tick­ets for the bal­lot, pro­duce com­mer­cials to ad­ver­tise it or pro­vide bal­lot ser­vices to the Cata­lan gov­ern­ment could also be legally li­able.


Mem­bers of Basque na­tion­al­ist youth move­ment Er­nai hold Esta­l­adas, gather at a proin­de­pen­dence meet­ing in Mon­dragon, Spain, on Thurs­day.

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