Saturday, December 23, 2017

Catalan Powder Keg

On Thursday, the Catalan election again – unsurprisingly – saw pro-independence parties reclaiming control of the regional assembly. They won 70 seats in the 135-strong assembly. 

Hardline Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party were brutally hammered in the election – losing eight of their eleven seats in the region’s parliament. Voters who opposed independence had switched support to Ciudadanos instead – who’ve been demanding even harsher measures against the secessionist push – winning 1.1 million votes to claim 37 seats. 

As such, there was no broad mandate for Catalonian independence – the pro-independence bloc only managed to garner 47.5% of the vote. In fact, overall support dipped by 0.3% and this was translated into two fewer seats as compared to the 2015 result. 

This victory by Puigdemont and his allies restored a majority they lost in October when Rajoy invoked Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 Constitution for the first time ever to fire the former – and compelling Puigdemont to flee for Belgium. A clutch of his allies including former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras remains in jail in Madrid as the Supreme Court investigates key Catalan figures for possible charges of rebellion. 

In other words, the rebel administration was ousted before it could put a declaration of independence into effect. Under the said Article, the government in Madrid is permitted to impose direct rule on an autonomous region. 

[Background: On October 01, Rajoy deployed riot police and nearly 900 people were hurt as police violently tried to enforce a Spanish court order suspending the independence referendum vote – which the government had declared illegal. This vote was the region's second referendum on independence in three years 

More than 2.25 million people turned out to Sunday's referendum across Catalonia. The regional government said 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low – around 42% of the voter roll. 

Catalan authorities blamed the figure on the crackdown on the vote initiated by the national government. Madrid had flooded Catalonia with thousands of national police in advance of the vote. Officers seized millions of ballot papers and sealed schools and other buildings to be used as polling stations. 

And on the day of the disputed vote, national police in riot gear launched a concerted effort to prevent people from casting their ballots. Police fired rubber bullets at protesters and voters trying to take part in the referendum, and used batons to beat them back. They also smashed their way into polling stations, and were seen pulling voters out by the hair and restraining elderly people]. 

Agenzia ANSA on Twitter 

Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images 

Manu Fernandez/AP 



The real headache for Puigdemont is the questions he has to address – how to implement his election victory – especially with the knowledge that there exists deep divisions in Catalan society. 

Rajoy, however, has shown that he’s determined to deploy the constitutional powers at his disposal to stop in its tracks any attempt to declare independence by disbanding the regional government. 

Rule over Catalonia by Spain remains in place until a new administration is formed, a process that could stretch on well into the next year. 

No matter which side of the fence we are on, there must be an immediate restitution of the legitimate government and the release of political prisoners. What Rajoy did was unacceptable and unforgivable. 

Note: Catalonia, an area in north-eastern Spain of 7.5 million people, accounts for 15 percent of Spain's population and 20 percent of its economic output. And of course, Catalonia has the Barcelona football team.

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