On Tuesday morning, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, announced that the non-binding referendum vote already called for the 9th of November and agreed upon among a majority of Catalan parties has been ruled out. Mas refused "to smash [our] heads against a wall of rocks" in view of the opposition from the Spanish authorities.
However, he announced that Catalans will still be able to cast a vote in a "participatory process" on that same day. 20,000 volunteers throughout the entire Catalonia will run the polling stations, located in Catalan Government venues.
There will not be a previously-published electoral census and Catalans will register just before voting, while an electronic system will make sure that people do not cast their ballot twice. In addition, a Participation Council will be created to supervise the neutrality of the process, the Catalan President added. Mas also said that he will not fully disclose the legal steps of this new process so as "not to pave the road" for a hypothetical appeal by the Spanish Government. However, he believes that this new vote does not openly challenge the Spanish authorities' ban, while at the same time it is an alternative way to allow Catalans to vote on the 9th of November, as repeatedly promised over the last few months.
Nevertheless, the Catalan President admitted that such a "participatory process" is not comparable to a proper referendum and stated that "the definitive referendum" would be early Catalan Parliament elections, where parties would transform it into a plebiscite on independence with shared lists. Mas' new proposal was not backed by any party in Catalonia, not even the opposition parties supporting the self-determination process. However, these last groups are hoping that unity can be rebuilt in the coming days, but at the same time they will not boycott the Catalan Government's new plan. None of them have made any commitment regarding the early elections. Besides, the Spanish Government, run by the People's Party (PP), stated that it will analyse the new proposal before deciding whether to appeal against it or not. However, a few leaders of the PP have indirectly suggested that Mas' "survey" could be tolerated if it strictly falls within the Catalan Government's powers. Other voices in Madrid, in the PP and other parties, have greatly criticised Mas and have asked him to resign.
The non-binding referendum vote on independence scheduled for the 9th of November, in the terms announced weeks ago and agreed upon among an almost two-third majority of the Catalan Parliament, will not take place. However it will be replaced by an alternative "participatory process" with ballot boxes that will take place on the same day. On Monday, the Catalan President made the decision to abandon the first plan because of all the legal obstacles thrown in its path by the Spanish Government, which are it making impossible to hold such a vote "without harming" the self-determination process, according to Mas. The Catalan President stated that carrying out such a vote against the Spanish authorities' legal ban would have "a boomerang" effect that would have damaged the self-determination cause. By insisting on holding the self-determination vote as it had been called, Catalans would have "smashed [their] heads against a wall of rocks" built by the Spanish authorities' "intolerance" and "belligerence".
Catalan President refuses to openly challenge Spain's legal framework
The Constitutional Court's temporary suspension of the Catalan Law on non-binding referendum Votes and the Catalan Government's decree calling the 9th of November's non-binding referendum vote on independence, and the fact that such temporary suspensions have not been lifted yet nor a definitive decision about their legality been reached yet, make it impossible to carry out direct preparations for the 9th of November, insisted Mas. Therefore, carrying on with these initial plans in the exact terms already announced would openly challenge Spain's legal system. The Catalan President stated that he will always act within the legal framework and therefore he cannot carry on with direct preparations while the decree is being suspended. In addition, he refused to put public employees, civil servants and service providers in the difficult position of having to choose whether obey the Catalan Government or the Constitutional Court, since they could be individually judicially persecuted by Spanish authorities taking into account its proven "intolerance" and "belligerence" to Catalonia's self-determination process.
Faced with this scenario, Mas said that he has been working to keep the unity of action among the Catalan parties supporting self-determination. However, yesterday he asked them to make a definitive decision on whether the 9th of November's non-binding referendum vote as such should be abandoned and how Catalans could still vote on their own collective future, as the uncertainty of the last few days regarding such a vote could not be sustained any longer affirmed Mas. Furthermore, some of the non-binding referendum vote's logistical aspects, such as starting the process to allow citizens to vote via post or publishing the voter census (in order to allow voters to make corrections), had to be launched around now, in order to have enough time to prepare them and have everything ready for the 9thof November. Mas admitted that launching those preparations would have directly challenged the Constitutional Court's temporary suspension.
"Unity is not everything"
Considering all these facts, the Catalan President proposed a new scenario to the 6 parties supporting the 9th of November's self-determination vote. Only the two parties within the governing centre-right pro-Catalan States coalition CiU, which is led by Mas, would have accepted the new plan. The other four would have insisted on continuing with the previous non-binding referendum vote, despite the Spanish Government's ban. Mas said he had asked them for their support but the others refused, although some of them said they would not try to block the new plan. To this end, the Catalan President stated that "[political] unity is not everything" and the Catalan Government has decided to go ahead with the new plan and take "full responsibility", hoping that the other groups will finally back the new process.
"There will be polling stations, ballots and boxes"
The Catalan President guaranteed that on the 9th of November there "there will be polling stations, ballots and boxes", according to "pre-existing legal frameworks". Mas emphasised that the Catalan Government has the power to carry out the process of citizen participation and to gather the opinions of Catalans on political matters. Mas will use those powers to carry out the new plan. The Catalan Government will open some of its venues throughout Catalonia to host the ballot boxes, such as high schools, offices, social centres, etc. Furthermore, it will ask the help of 20,000 volunteers to run the polling stations. Everybody included in the previous call could participate in this new process as well as other people who were not previously allowed, such as people born in Catalonia but currently living in other parts of Spain. This means that all the Catalans of 16 or older, as well as EU citizens living in Catalonia for more than a year and non-EU-nationals living in Catalonia for more than 3 years can participate. There will not be a previously-published census and participants will register just before casting their vote with their official ID card. An electronic system will make sure that people do not vote twice. A Participation Council will supervise the neutrality of the whole process. The results will be announced on the 10th of November.
Mas insisted that citizens will be offered the option to vote on the two-part question that was agreed upon in December 2013 among the 6 parties supporting the self-determination process. The question reads "Do you want Catalonia to become a State? If yes, should this State become independent?" People answering yes to both parts would be voting for independence; those voting "no" would oppose independence and also oppose granting Catalonia greater powers; and those voting "yes" to the first part and "no" to the second one would back a Catalan State within a federated or confederate Spain.
Early elections organised as a plebiscite on independence will be the final step
However, Mas admitted that the new "participatory process" to take place on the 9th of November cannot be considered a referendum and will not provide political powers with a democratic mandate. "It is not the definitive referendum" he stated. However, it will be useful as it will provide information on the will of a large part of the Catalan society, but the Catalan Government does not consider this process as definitive. In addition, it keeps the public commitment to allow citizens to cast their vote on the 9th of November.
However he also warned that "a serious country that wants such a process to be understood at an international level has to go through a referendum", he emphasised. Since the Spanish Government does not allow any referendum at all, the only way is to call early elections, which party would have to transform into a de facto referendum on independence, running with shared list and a clear promise regarding Catalonia's independence from Spain. Such an electoral call would provide a clear democratic mandate, which could be understood at international level. However, he said that currently this option is not totally ready, since some parties supporting self-determination are not fully convinced about it. For this reason, he said he is not calling it yet. Mas emphasised that he is waiting to be convinced by the political parties that an early election to the Catalan Parliament would be transformed into a de facto referendum. If this is done, he said he is ready to call such early elections. Otherwise, there is no need to call elections, he concluded.