Catalonia to defy Madrid over independence vote

Spanish government aims to stop Oct 1 vote which it says is illegal

MADRID • Catalonia yesterday announced a law to make formal its plans for an Oct 1 referendum on whether to declare independence from Spain, a vote the Spanish government says is illegal and which it has said it will stop.
 

Catalan lawmakers were due to vote yesterday on the referendum law and the legal framework needed to set up an independent state. The laws would likely be approved because pro-independence parties have a majority in the regional Parliament.

Polls in the north-eastern region, whose capital is Barcelona, show support for self-rule waning as Spain's economy improves. But the majority of Catalans do want the opportunity to vote on whether to split from Spain.

The government yesterday said it had asked the Spanish constitutional court to declare the referendum law void as soon as it is approved by the regional Parliament. The Spanish Constitution states that the country is indivisible.

"What is happening in the Catalan Parliament is embarrassing, it's shameful," Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said.

The details of the referendum, which aims to pose the question "Do you want Catalonia to be an independent republic?" to all Spanish citizens living in Catalonia, were revealed amid a tense atmosphere in the regional Parliament.

"Be very clear that you will not split up Spain, but you are breaking up Catalonia," Mr Alejandro Fernandez of the ruling People's Party (PP) told pro-independence lawmakers.

NO SPLITTING SPAIN

Be very clear that you will not split up Spain, but you are breaking up Catalonia. You're putting social harmony at risk.

MR ALEJANDRO FERNANDEZ, of the ruling People's Party, to pro-independence lawmakers.

"You're putting social harmony at risk," he said.

There will be no minimum turnout requirement to make the result of the vote binding, regional government head Carles Puigdemont said in a recent briefing. Ballot boxes, voting papers and an electoral census are at the ready, he said.

Under the terms of the new laws, the Catalan Parliament will declare independence within 48 hours of a "yes" vote.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told a news conference on Monday that his government would come down with all the force of the law to ensure no referendum would go ahead on Oct 1.

Courts have already suspended from office and levelled millions of euros in fines at Catalan politicians who organised a non-binding referendum in 2014, which returned a "yes" vote on a low turnout.

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people with its own language and culture that accounts for about one-fifth of Spain's economic output, has significant powers over matters such as education, healthcare and welfare.

But Spain's economic doldrums and a perception that the region pays more in taxes than it receives in investments and transfers from Madrid have helped push the cause of secession from the fringes of Catalan politics to centre-stage.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Catalonia to defy Madrid over independence vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe