Rifts appear on both sides in Spain on Catalan independence

Police inspecting a drain near the Catalan presidency's headquarters in Barcelona yesterday, on the eve of the regional Parliament's plenary session in which the unilateral independence declaration could be passed. Spain has vowed to start taking ove
Police inspecting a drain near the Catalan presidency's headquarters in Barcelona yesterday, on the eve of the regional Parliament's plenary session in which the unilateral independence declaration could be passed. Spain has vowed to start taking over Catalonia's political power and finances in the coming days if it does not stop its independence drive.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Catalan leader urged to call elections to avoid power takeover by central govt in Madrid

BARCELONA • Rifts have begun to appear on both sides of the divide in Spain over Catalonia's push for independence.

Several members of Catalonia's separatist government told the region's leader they want elections to avoid a power takeover by Madrid, a source close to him said yesterday.

Many believe calling early elections would be an alternative to the region declaring independence, and thus a solution to Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

The crisis was sparked by a divisive independence referendum that went ahead on Oct 1 despite a court ban.

Several regional government members expressed their support for elections in a meeting on Tuesday with regional President Carles Puigdemont, said the source who refused to be named.

Spain has vowed to start taking over Catalonia's political power and finances in the coming days if it does not stop its independence drive.

Mr Puigdemont's ruling coalition is hugely disparate, with the far-left CUP and left-wing ERC parties that prop up his conservative PDeCAT grouping gunning for him to declare independence.

Many believe calling early elections would be an alternative to the region declaring independence, and thus a solution to Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

According to Catalan daily La Vanguardia, the meeting yielded "intense debate" and went on well into the night, with no decision reached.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stressed that constitutional measures to take over Catalonia's powers were "the only possible response" to Mr Puigdemont's independence push.

"I am fulfilling my obligation by implementing (constitutional Article) 155, faced with contempt for our laws, the Constitution, Catalonia's status and contempt for millions of Catalan citizens who see that their government has liquidated the law," he told Parliament.

But implementing Article 155 could spark unrest in the north-eastern region, which, though divided on independence, is fiercely protective of its language and autonomy.

Independence supporters were yesterday preparing to take to the streets again. Teachers were planning a rally in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, and grassroots organisations dubbed "committees to defend the referendum" were also due to protest.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government's plan to crush the separatists is also ringing alarm bells among some of Mr Rajoy's allies.

The Socialists are baulking at the government's focus on taking control of the administration in Barcelona while shutting off options that would allow the Catalan leadership a dignified retreat, according to two people with knowledge of their discussions.

The biggest opposition party in the Spanish Parliament, the Socialists have backed Mr Rajoy and his minority government so far, but the party's top brass voiced concern in a meeting on Tuesday that the conflict will escalate unnecessarily if the Catalans are given no room to manoeuvre, one of the people said. They asked not to be named when discussing internal matters.

The tension adds another layer of intrigue to Spain's most dramatic political crisis in almost four decades.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'Rifts appear on both sides in Spain on Catalan independence'. Print Edition | Subscribe