Opposition parties in Catalonia yesterday demanded a snap regional election after pressure from Madid forced leaders to water down plans for a vote on independence from Spain.
The region’s conservative president, Artur Mas, said on Tuesday the non-binding ballot called for November could not go ahead as planned—a move hailed by Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy as a “triumph for democracy”.
Faced with a legal challenge from Madrid, Mas vowed instead to hold a symbolic vote on that date without a formal electoral roll, which would fall short of a full referendum.
That frustrated some of the left-wing pro-independence groups with whom he had joined forces in his drive for an independence vote.
“Reconsider your position, restore unity, and if you cannot do that, call an election now without further ado,” Joan Herrera, leader of the pro-referendum ecologist party ICV, said in the regional parliament yesterday.
He added his voice to that of Oriol Junqueras, leader of the left-wing nationalist ERC party that props up Mas’s CiU group in the parliament, who called on Tuesday for a snap election “as soon as possible”.
Junqueras said that if such an election yielded “a parliamentary majority for parties that are in favour of declaring independence, then it must be declared”.
The Citizens party, which wants Catalonia to remain part of Spain, also backed the call for an early election.
Mas himself admitted on Tuesday that an early election could serve as a plebiscite on independence, with pro-independence parties standing in a joint list.
Proud of their distinct language and culture, Catalonia’s 7.5mn inhabitants have increasingly been demanding greater autonomy over recent years. The region accounts for nearly a fifth of Spain’s economic output.
Rajoy is fiercely opposed to Catalonia breaking away from Spain. He had branded the planned referendum unconstitutional and vowed to defend the unity of Spain as it emerges from an economic crisis.
Rajoy’s conservative government launched a legal challenge that led to the Constitutional Court suspending Catalan legislation aimed at organising a vote on independence.
After Mas changed his plan for the vote, Rajoy said: “This is a triumph for democracy and law. No political official, no leader whatsoever, not even the national parliament, can be above the law.”
Rajoy said that a new “chapter of dialogue” was being opened with Catalonia.
But Rajoy also threatened to block a non-binding “consultation” ballot which Catalonia says it will hold instead, if it were found to be illegal.
Nor was it clear if the Catalan authorities wanted to start discussions with the central government. regional president Artur Mas said on Tuesday the Spanish state was “the enemy”.
Mas presented Rajoy a set of economic measures in July, including an increase in central government spending in the region, Spain’s economic powerhouse, while the government has opened the door to reforms next year on the way Spanish regions are financed, a long-standing demand from Catalonia.
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