Sep 30, 2015

Spain’s Reaction to Catalonia’s Vote: Right to Decide Equals Civil Disobedience

Sunday, 27 September 2015 marked the 11th Catalonian parliamentary election, held to decide the new members of the regional legislature of the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia.

Sitting President Artur Mas called for the election back in January 2015, having been denied the right to hold a legal referendum on the issue of independence. The idea was that this election would serve as a plebiscite, standing as an alternative vote on the independence of Catalonia.

The result was a resounding victory for pro-independence parties, particularly the ‘Together for Yes’ (Junts Pel Si) coalition, including Mas’ party, the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), the Democrats of Catalonia (DC), and the Left Movement (MES), supported by the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP).

The coalition won 47.75% of the vote, which, combined with the 77.4% overall turnout, some have claimed provides a real mandate to take their plans for independence forward. On the other hand, this result still means that a small majority of the population did not opt for the independence parties, indicating a lack of political consensus on the issue.

In the wake of his electoral victory, Catalan president Artur Mas has been charged under Spain’s civil disobedience laws for his organisation of a referendum on independence in November last year. This vote, declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Court, was participated in by 2.3 million people, of whom 80% voted to break with Spain. Given that unionists were less likely to participate in an event run by their political opponents, the accuracy of these results can be debated, but nevertheless there is clearly a large number of Catalonians who do not want to remain attached to Spain.

The Spanish constitution makes it illegal for regions to secede from the state. It is interesting to note that the date currently set for the beginning of the court case, October 15, is the 75th anniversary of the execution of a previous Catalan president, Lluis Companys, by Francisco Franco’s fascist regime. If found guilty, Mas could be banned from public office for 10 years.

Oriol Junkereras, Mas' main coalition partner, responded to the news by saying that this demonstrates why Catalonia needs independence. Antonio Banos, the leader of CUP, commented that, "myself and 2,000,000 Catalans also ‘disobeyed’, so if they want to summon all of us, we would be delighted."

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy remains firmly against discussions of independence; in a brief statement on Monday [28 September 2015] he declared himself willing to speak to all the electoral parties, but confirmed he would not negotiate about secession. However, the consistent rigidity of the Spanish government’s response to ‘independentistes’, using legal mechanisms to prevent the Catalan people’s right to decide through a referendum, and now prosecuting a leading pro-independence politician, has, ironically, done much to promote the cause of Catalan independence.


Photo credit: Jordi Boixareu @Flickr