The referendum process in Catalonia
On October 14th a significant event took place: Artur Mas, President of Catalonia and of the political party Convergència i Unió (CiU),held a press conference to explain the process of referendum to be held on November 9th. His message was clear: there will be open locals, polls and ballots.
Almost a month earlier, on September 19th, the Parliament of Catalonia had passed the Law on a non-binding public consultation. Almost 80% of regional MPs supported it, which is a large overall majority. On Saturday September 27th, Artur Mas signed the subsequent Decree convening a consultation (referendum) on independence to take place on November 9th.
In response, the Government of Mariano Rajoy, via Council of Ministers, lodged on September 29th an appeal before the Constitutional Court against both the Law and the Decree. In turn, the Constitutional Court has suspended the entry into force of both Catalonian resolutions while it deliberates on the appeal against them.
During his press conference, Artur Mas said that the November 9th is a preliminary consultation, and that this will be followed by the final consultation in which several political parties should submit a joint candidacy to convene early elections and advocate for an official referendum. However, this joint candidacy of several parties is still in the air, because as Mas said himself, the political consensus has weakened. This is an implicit allusion to Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña, ERC) and the Socialist Party of Catalonia (Partido Socialista de Cataluña, PSC) and the possibility that they will withdraw their support for the consultation.
The governing Popular Party interprets President Mas´ press conference as a «victory of democracy», as «a step back» and a «waiver» of Artur Mas to hold the consultation. As for alternative legal frameworks, president of the Popular Party and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said they will appeal these alternative ballots if they see a-legalities.
Meanwhile, the first secretary of the Socialist Party of Catalonia, Miquel Iceta, has described as «cheating» and an «error» the alternative consultation proposed by the President of the Catalan Government, believing that it lacks the minimum democratic guarantees. As a result of the alleged new terms of the consultation, , Iceta has claimed that the Catalan Socialists will not participate in the preparatory campaign.
Regarding the pro-consultation political parties Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña, ERC), Initiative for Catalonia (Iniciativa per Cataluña- Verds, ICV) and Candidature of Popular Unity (Candidatura de Unidad Popular,CUP) accuse Mr. Mas of renouncing to the agreed consultation and of replacing it with a participatory process.
International Press views
Tobias Buck, from the Financial Times, thinks that the latest Catalan move suggests Mr. Mas is reluctant to trigger a head-on clash with Madrid, or to openly defy a legal ruling by Spain’s highest court.Raphael Minder says in The New York Times that the voteon November 9th will look similar to what had initially been planned, organized with the help of more than 20,000 volunteers, held in polling stations across Catalonia and with the backing of 920 town halls that recently voted in favor of a secession ballot in November. Regarding the legal framework, Raphael Minder states that Catalonia will push forward with a planned November vote on independence but in a modified way under existing frameworks allowed for citizen participation, in an attempt to skirt restrictions imposed by the Spanish courts.In the same way, Ben Sills, from Bloomerg, qualifies the movement of Mr. Mas as an «informal» ballot for November 9th that will allow Catalans to vote, but won’t have legal force. Raphael Minder agrees with this and adds that this informal ballot would struggle to receive international legitimacy.
- The president of CiU, Artur Mas, loses political consensus.As Artur Mas recognized in the press conference, the political consensus on the celebration of the referendum with the rest of the Catalan political parties about has been weakened. Matt Moffett, in an interview to Salvador Cardus -a sociologist and member of the National Transition Advisory Council- notes that Artur Mas’ new plan has «less democratic and symbolic force». Raphael Minder, from the New York Times, highlights that in the coming weeks Mr. Mas will also have to face a significant challenge in keeping other pro-independence parties aligned with his governing party, Convergencia I Unió. Ashifa Kassam from The Guardian thinks that Artur Mas is caught between defying the Constitutional Court and the pro-independence parties pushing for the vote to go ahead.
- The Popular Party considers the process closed. The leader of the Catalan Popular Party, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, considers the press conference of Artur Mas as a step backwards, a defeat, and a victory of the democracy. As Tobias Buck says in the Financial Times, Mariano Rajoy, Spain´s prime minister, qualifies Artur Mas latest decision as a way to abandon the planned referendum, and greeted it as «excellent news». Matt Moffett in the Wall Street Journal holds that after Mr. Mas’s remarks, Vice President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters that the Government would analyze the new plan to see if it can be contested in the Constitutional Court.
- The Socialist Party retains the federalist option. The leader of the Socialist Party, Pedro Sánchez – followed by the leader of the Catalan Socialist Party, Miquel Iceta- offers both Artur Mas and Mariano Rajoy the proposal for a federal reform of the Constitution. Ben Sills, from Bloomberg, describes Sanchez’s position as a path to clear the way for a negotiated settlement.
- The minority political forces position themselves towards the new way of continuing with the Catalan consultation. The rest of the Catalan sovereignty’s block, ERC, Democratic Convergence (CDC), Democratic Union (UDC), ICV, EUiA (Catalan branch of IU) and CUP are joined in their criticism of the decaffeinated process that Artur Mas is leading. In the same way, Matt Moffett holds in the Wall Street Journal that some pro-independence political parties feel that the referendum has been greatly devalued. Raphael Minder in the New York Times puts on the spotlight Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, aleft-wing secessionist party enjoying the second-largest representation in the Catalonia’s Parliament. The party’s leader, Oriol Junqueras issued a statement suggesting that it wanted early elections to move swiftly toward a unilateral declaration of independence.Ben Sills explains in Bloomerg ERC’s position,which has led Junqueras to offer Mas qualified support for his new goal. Without agreeing to join Mas’s ticket in the next regional ballot, he said he would do everything he could to make the plan work. Albert Rivera, president of Ciudadanos, an anti-separatist Catalonian party, believes that «Republican Left of Catalonia merely observes how Mas flees forward and commits political suicide”. Meanwhile, the leader of UPyD, Rosa Díez, has been critical of Mas’s decision to maintain the sovereignty consultation and announced that UPyD will enlarge the complaint filed against him two weeks ago in the Supreme Court to include these «fraudulent» actions.
- The consultation on November 9th will go ahead.The referendum on November 9th will be carried out on the basis of a different legal framework to the Law on a non-binding public consultation (which has been suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court). The Catalan Government will design an ad-hoc legal framework for citizen participation. Mr. Mas has not provided the details of such framework as he doesn´t want to give any clues to the Central Government.
Tobias Buck says in the Financial Times that the legal basis the Catalan government will use to organize and finance the informal consultation is not clear. Mr. Buck also believes that Mr. Mas will be under pressure to show how the planned consultation differs from a series of informal independence ballots held in some Catalan towns in 2009.
Matt Moffett reveals in the Wall Street Journal a key difference between the new plan and the original: the central role of volunteers. In this new scenario, these will be essential in helping to administer the process, rather than Catalan government officials. Another key aspect of the new process is that participants would register at the moment they vote. And he adds that Catalan officials were reluctant to use the local census data as a basis for voter rolls, because of the fear of an additional court challenge.
Raphael Minder says in the New York Times that the Artur Mas’s alternative plan is less likely to push Spain into a constitutional crisis, even if it creates further political and legal uncertainty and continues to be opposed by the Central Government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Artur Mas has not referred to the possibility of amending the Constitution, but he said that if the Spanish Central Government makes a specific offer, he will examine it and see if it is supported by the Catalan citizens..Regarding the scenario of early elections, Artur Mas understands it as a «referendum or consultation in the form of elections.» It means ordinary elections called by the President of the Generalitat, in which some political parties submit a joint candidature and receive absolute majority. The ultimate aim is to hold a referendum, as Mr. Mas does not contemplate the joint candidature for any other purpose. He is the only one who can proclaim elections so he has said he is open to opinions from other political parties on his idea of these elections for a referendum, and has left the ball on their roof. Fiona Maharg-Bravo says in Thompson Reuters Breaking Views that Catalonia’s independence would be messy, non-consensual and fraught with many legal uncertainties.
- Social platforms position themselves surrounding the Catalan consultation. In general terms, the pro-consultation platforms do not consider the possibility of any other choice than the November 9th referendum –despite the abovementioned alternative of the anticipated elections, so they insist pressuring Catalonia’s president Artur Mas.
The activity of the Catalan National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Catalana, ANC) has focused on collecting signatures to support the independence consultation, celebrating various concentrations demanding the referendum and it also led the preparations for the celebration of the Catalan National Day Diada, last September 11th. In that respect, Ben Sills remarks in Bloomberg the hundreds of thousands of supporters of independence who were on the streets of Barcelona Sept. 11th to mark Catalan National Day.
Other pro-consultation associations, which are less influential, such as Omnium Cultural and Súmate, have also presented several initiatives and events to convince more voters.
By contrast, the Catalan Civil Society (Sociedad Civil Catalana, SCC), an anti- independence entity, has been organizing demonstrations in various towns in Catalonia calling for the unity of Spain and against independence.
Finally, Clean Hands, the collective of public servants, has filed a writ before the National Court requesting the suspension and the subsequent illegalization of the Catalan National Assembly, based on the listing of 24 actions that it considers offences. .
Raphael Minder in The New York Times believes that Mr. Mas must now hope that a nonbinding referendum can generate enough popular enthusiasm amid discord among the main secessionist parties and without any legal guarantees from the government of Spain.