Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Background information on the November 9 ballot in Catalonia

In 2003 89% of the MPs in the Catalan Parliament decided to propose a new regional constitution ("Statute of Autonomy") for Catalonia, given the gradual decentralization of powers in Madrid since the first Statute was adopted in 1979, and the new needs that had emerged over time. In September 2005 they agreed on a new text which satisfied parties across the whole spectrum except for the Spanish People's Party (which had comefourth in the 2003 election) and which they regarded as falling within the terms of the 1978 Spanish Constitution.

The Spanish Parliament made such cuts to the draft Statute that one of the main parties actually called for a No vote in the binding referendum to ratify it in Catalonia, and the lack of public enthusiasm for the resulting text was reflected in the relatively low turnout, just under 50%.

The Spanish People's Party, which had opposed from the start any increase in the level of devolution, took the Statute to the Constitutional Court (the only Statute to be thus questioned, since the 1978 Constitution had become law). Four years later (June 2010), and after numerous leaks to the press and internal politicking, the Court deemed significant aspects of the Statute to be unconsitutional, thereby obliterating the binding nature of the referendum.

Since then there have been two elections in Catalonia, in 2010 and 2012, to redress the institutional crisis. Since 2012 there has been a clear electoral commitment, and a broad parliamentary mandate, for a vote to be held on the future of Catalonia. In December 2013 a clear majority of the Parliament agreed on the question to be put (those opposing the idea of a vote had refused to take part in the discussions) and the date: November 9 2014. 

The Spanish government refused to apply the provisions in the Constitution to allow this to take place as a referendum, so the parties supporting the vote agreed to enact Catalan legislation on popular ballots other than referendums (as foreseen in the 2006 Statute). The Government issued a decree (calling this ballot) on the very day the law was published. The law had been subjected to stringent legal scrutiny and not a single amendment was proposed to the bill.

In an unprecedentedly short space of time the Spanish Government challenged the law and the decree before the Constitutional Court, which in accordance with corrent legislation temporarily suspended the decree. Much to the Spanish government's relief, the Government decided to respect the temporary suspension, which made it impossible to hold the ballot in the form originally planned.

In response, and in a reaffirmation of its electoral commitment, the Government announced a ballot, to be held on the same day, in accordance with an as yet unannounced legal framework governing processes of citizen participation. Despite strong calls for disobedience from the other parties (to go ahead with the November 9th ballot as planned, despite the Constitutionaol Court's ruling) the Government has reestablished the consensus, at least until the day after the ballot. There will be 1,255 schools (where people will be able to participate), and 6,430 ballot boxes in 941 of the 947 local districts (only six local councils have refused to cooperate, and nearly all amassed in the Catalan Government palace, in Barcelona, on October 4). 

20,000 volunteers were needed to assure the ballot. By October 24 there were 35,348 enrolled. Moreover, thousands of civil servants have offered their support, outside their working hours.

The Spanish government's initial reaction to this new ploy was one of scorn and derision. A few days later, however, it decided to ask its lawyers, and the Council of State, for their opinion as regards the new November 9 ballot. Quite deliberately, there is no written evidence in any official document as regards the organisation of the event, so experts agree that it is absurd for the Spanish government to try and bar it, when no written, public decision yet exists.












Professor Miquel Strubell

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