Do the Catalan people want independence from Spain? They are set to head to the polls on Sunday, October 1, in a controversial referendum to determine this very question.
MPs in Catalonia’s parliament have given the green light for the vote, but the Spanish government has vowed to stop it.
Why do Catalans want the referndum now?
Calls for complete independence in the region have grown steadily since the region was granted a degree of autonomy in 1977 after General Francisco Franco’s rule.
In July 2010 a Constitutional Court in Madrid overruled part of a 2006 autonomy statute, deeming there was no legal basis for recognising Catalonia as a separate nation within Spain.
Since then, demand for Catalan independence has been amplified by the economic crisis that hit Spain hard, with those in the wealthy Barcelona region seeing themselves as a crutch for the rest of the country.
Making up 18.8 percent of Spanish GDP, compared to 17.6 percent from Madrid, the Catalan region is one of the richest in Spain.
Madrid, does, however, have a higher per capita GDP.
How did the referendum come about?
Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont called the referendum in June during a solemn ceremony at the Catalan government’s Barcelona headquarters.
Then, in late July, Catalan MPs approved procedural changes that would fast-track a declaration of independence should voters chose it.
Catalonia’s parliament approved a law for the referendum in September, but Madrid quickly complained to the country’s constitutional court who suspended the legislation.
Mariano Rajoy’s government had argued the referendum means to “destroy and annihilate the constitution” and that it is “typical of an autocratic regime”.
What is the position of the Spanish government?
PM Rajoy has vowed the referendum will not be held and has asked the Catalan mayors to comply.
His government plans to apply article 155 of the constitution if Catalonia pushes ahead with the vote.
It gives the executive authority to take the “necessary measures of force” to ensure the constitution is adhered to.
“If someone is asked to go to a polling station, do not go, because there can be no referendum and it would be an absolutely illegal act,” Rajoy told Catalans.
Spanish police have already seized Catalan government-produced leaflets and posters urging voters to back the ‘yes’ campaign.
Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s regional police, have been ordered to prevent the referendum, although it is unclear if they have intervened yet.
On September 20, Spanish police raided Catalan government offices in Barcelona, sparking protests.
Protesters block police car as Catalan official arrested during raid
Han tallat la Gran Via. La policia intenta sortir i els manifestants no els deixen pic.twitter.com/mFYMz7S2ju— Carles Corbalán (@carlitus24) September 20, 2017
Madrid has also closed the main website linking to the referendum, while Catalan mayors who back independence have been put before the state prosecutor.
What is the position of the main Spanish parties?
Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist party, the main opposition, has shown his support for Rajoy’s government in his bid to stop the referendum, but he has also criticised the lack of dialogue that has precipitated the current situation.
The left-wing Podemos party and their related political groups have summoned an extraordinary assembly of parliamentarians and mayors all around Spain to promote a referendum agreed against the ruling party’s policy of “repression”.
“The laws are on the side of the government, but that does not serve to solve a political problem,” said Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos.
Who will be eligible to vote?
Catalans over the age of 18 and eligible to vote in elections for the Catalonia parliament will be allowed to vote in the referendum, even if they live abroad. However, no votes will be accepted by postal or electronic mail.
Those taking part will be asked: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”
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