Spanish PM urges Catalans to vote

CRUCIAL VOTE: "I hope we see a massive turnout... I hope people understand the importance of this election." - PRIME MINISTER MARIANO RAJOY
CRUCIAL VOTE: "I hope we see a massive turnout... I hope people understand the importance of this election." - PRIME MINISTER MARIANO RAJOY

He hopes silent majority will break with separatists in Dec polls and help end crisis

CATALONIA (Spain) • Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is betting that he can uncover a silent, pro-Spain majority in Catalonia that can help him restore order to the rebel region.

Mr Rajoy is seeking to boost turnout in next month's regional election on the basis that undecided voters will break decisively with the separatists if they are drawn to the polls.

"I hope we see a massive turnout," he told lawmakers in the Spanish Parliament yesterday in Madrid. "I hope people understand the importance of this election."

After an ill-fated declaration of independence last month, Catalans will vote for a new regional government on Dec 21.

Both sides have already started mobilising voters, with the pro-independence parties saying this is an opportunity to cement their actions, and pro-Madrid forces arguing that this is the best chance they have had to reset Catalan politics.

In Catalonia, separatist hardliners blocked transport links across the region yesterday morning, adding to the economic disruption that has seen more than 2,200 Catalan companies shift their legal base since the illegal referendum on Oct 1.

The regional transport authority reported about 60 incidents of blocked roads due to protesters as of about 10am local time.

The Catalan rail network Rodalies Catalunya said on Twitter that its services were affected because of protesters on the tracks.

In response, the Catalan police said they were actively working to unblock roads.

The role of the 17,000-member force is key in implementing the central government's direct rule in the region.

Answering questions from rivals in congress, Mr Rajoy said the transition was going smoothly and Catalan civil servants were playing their part.

Meanwhile, Mr Carles Puigdemont, the ousted Catalan leader in self-imposed exile in Belgium, is trying to revive his secessionist cause by seeking international support.

He criticised the passive nature of European institutions after a judge in Madrid sent members of Mr Puigdemont's former Cabinet to jail pending an investigation into charges of sedition and rebellion.

Mr Puigdemont faces five charges, while the Belgian authorities are working on Madrid's extradition request.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told his Parliament yesterday that diplomacy between the two nations remains strong and that Mr Puigdemont's possible extradition is up to the courts.

"There is a political crisis in Spain, not in Belgium," he said. "The European arrest warrant is a case for the justice system, it's not for the Belgian government."

Mr Michel, who also urged Madrid to talk to the separatists, said that "the most important message, which is my strong conviction, is dialogue, dialogue, political dialogue", as lawmakers grilled him on his coalition's stance.

Mr Puigdemont was dealt another blow on Tuesday when his former pro-independence ally, Esquerra Republicana, ruled out running on a single ticket in the December ballot.

The sacked Catalan leader had called on all pro-secession parties to join forces on a combined platform to increase their chances of winning and even floated his name as a candidate.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'Spanish PM urges Catalans to vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe