The current president of Catalonia and his party, faced with cases of internal party corruption, and caught between having to apply unpopular cuts and an emerging independence movement, decided to progressively begin the path to independence, which appeared to be a much more exciting possibility than that of applying unpopular austerity measures. Rajoy and his ministers have laid siege to Catalonia over the past three weeks, backed by PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez and a bevy of PSOE regional leaders.
Mr Rajoy argues that because the loss of Catalonia would affect all of Spain, the democratic approach would be for all of the country to vote in a referendum on Catalonia’s future.
The Catalan issue poses a tough challenge to Rajoy as he seeks to cement Spain’s recovery from recession. As understandable as their frustration may be, this is no way to secede from a country. The Government of Catalonia can finance part of a candidate’s campaign expenses, as with nationwide elections to the Congress of Deputies and the Senate.
The regional president has declared that if the two main pro-independence parties win an overall majority, he will regard that as a mandate for secession and will launch an 18-month transition to create the institutions necessary for an independent state. However, CUP has expressed reservations about backing Mas, a conservative nationalist, for another term as Catalan premier.
“These elections are special”.
In the impending election, Catalans should not be fazed by threats from the anti-independence camp. “Such is the atmosphere that all other questions are in the background, nobody is talking about anything else”. Devolution – the transfer of tax and spending powers to the regions – has softened (though not silenced) Scottish calls for independence, and seems to have averted a Welsh move down the secessionist path. Andreu Mas-Colell, a former Harvard University economics professor who is the Spanish region’s finance chief, said a year ago that he was open to the idea.
Past year the central government did not allow the Catalan Generalitat to hold an official referendum on independence, whereupon the local authorities held their own unofficial public opinion survey.
However, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that it was unconstitutional. But if the popular vote for secession fails to reach 50 percent, will it be democratically legitimate to go down that road? And Catalonia might not be welcomed immediately into the European Union.
On September 27th, Catalonia will vote to elect 135 representatives for its regional parliament.
One of the few points on which everybody in Spain agrees is that the elections will have a major, countrywide impact on politics. Bank of Spain governor Luis Maria Linde has warned that loss of European Union membership would have monetary and other financial effects.
Mas said Catalonia will leave Spain to pay off the region’s debt if Madrid doesn’t sit down to talk. “If there were serious tensions there could be a deposit freeze, as we’ve seen in Latin America and Greece”. There are many temptations in the electoral campaign to disguise reality, whether this be the discourse of fear by State government, or speeches on the idyllic dream of an independent Catalonia.
“We have to get to a negotiation whatever the cost and whatever the pain”, Josep Manel Busqueta, a trained economist who’s running on the CUP ticket, said in an interview in Barcelona Wednesday.
While the pro-independence voters are considered to be fully mobilized, opponents of the secession drive worked until midnight Friday – the last day of campaigning – to urge people in the Barcelona metropolitan area, home to 3.2 million people and traditionally less supportive of independence, to cast their ballots.
With a general election expected in December, the results of Sunday’s vote will have added importance.
If Sunday’s election is reflective of the polls, secessionist parties will have the majority needed to proclaim independence.