The Catalan Government is gradually disclosing details and starting preparations for the alternative non-binding referendum process on independence that will take place on the 9th of November, which replaces the non-binding referendum vote also scheduled on that day. Meanwhile, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, celebrates "the excellent news" about the Catalan Government abandoning the previous non-binding referendum vote, which had been temporarily suspended by the Constitutional Court.
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The Spanish Government and the People's Party (PP), chaired by Rajoy, would not want to raise the profile of the minor new vote by acting strongly against it. It seems they are hesitating whether to appeal against it or to tolerate it, in spite of Catalans still being called to cast a ballot about independence from Spain in a non-binding participatory process. On the 9th of November, Catalans will be called to give their opinion about their collective future in an alternative non-binding referendum vote that was announced on Tuesday by the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, without the agreement of the other parties supporting self-determination.
Mas did not disclose many details about the new democratic process, although he guaranteed that there will be "ballots and boxes", located in Catalan Government's venues, run by volunteers and where citizens would register as voters on the same day, just before casting their vote. In the next two days after this announcement, further details have been revealed and the first preparations have begun.
On Wednesday, the Catalan Minister for the Presidency, Francesc Homs, explained that there will be 600 voting venues spread throughout Catalonia, instead of the 4,000 polling stations initially foreseen in the previous non-binding referendum vote. Furthermore, these 600 venues will be hosting 6,000 polling places, with a ballot box in each one of them.
Volunteering civil servants will supervise the participation process
In addition, there will be between 3,000 and 3,500 civil servants among the 20,000 volunteers that will run the voting venues. However, Homs stressed that these civil servants will be elected on a volunteer basis. Their task will be essential in making sure that the whole public participation process is developed correctly.
Furthermore, on Thursday, the Catalan Government launched the website where citizens can register to become one of the volunteers running the polling stations (www.participa2014.cat). The form to register as volunteer will be available on Friday after 2pm (CET). The website also includes information about who can vote and, coming soon, about the exact location of the polling venues.
In addition, also on Thursday, Catalonia's Official Journal (DOGC) published the creation of the file that will register the personal data of the citizens who will participate in the new non-binding referendum process scheduled for the 9th of November. The Catalan President already explained that there will be an electronic system to make sure that citizens do not cast their ballot twice. Francesc Homs gave more details about it: participants will register their official ID number into a computer located in the voting centre, just before casting their vote. All the computers will be connected to a same system that will make sure that this person does not vote twice or in two different centres. Homs emphasised that such a system is in place for official elections in many countries such as in the United States.
Those entitled to cast their vote will be all Catalans of 16 years and above on the 9th of November. This includes all the Spanish nationals living in Catalonia and all the people born in Catalonia and living in the rest of Spain or abroad, of 16 and above, who can prove their ID, official residence and place of birth through their official Spanish ID card (DNI) or passport. For those living abroad, they will have to also show proof of being registered in the Register of Catalans Living Abroad. In addition, EU-nationals who have been living in Catalonia for more than a year and non-EU-nationals who have been living in Catalonia for more than 3 years will also be able to vote by showing their official Spanish ID card for foreign residents (NIE).
In addition, the Catalan President, Artur Mas, stated on Tuesday that he will not sign a specific decree to call this public participatory process, in order not to "pave the road" for the Spanish Government to appeal against it, take it to the Constitutional Court and have it temporarily suspended like the previous non-binding referendum vote. "We will not make things so easy for them this time", Mas said. He emphasised that the Catalan Government is organising this alternative non-binding referendum using its powers over citizen participation, recognised by the Catalan Statute of Autonomy currently in place after its trimming by the Constitutional Court in 2010. In addition, there is a current legal framework in place ruling these kinds of participatory processes in Catalonia. However, experts say that even if a decree is not signed, the Catalan Government will have to approve in the next few days, resolutions and orders regarding this public participatory process, which could be appealed against by the Spanish Government.
The Spanish Government is waiting to react
On this occasion, the Spanish Government is acting with caution. It seems it is hesitating about whether to tolerate such a devaluated non-binding referendum vote or to appeal against it. By acting against it, it will probably strengthen the pro-independence side since it will give them additional motivation to vote and it will offer them a powerful photo opportunity, with citizens queuing in front of polling stations while the Spanish Government prevents them from voting. However, by tolerating the vote, Mariano Rajoy risks facing a majority of cast ballots supporting independence from Spain, in a public participatory process with a low but respectable turnout.
In any case, what seems obvious in these first two days, is that the People's Party (PP) and Rajoy's Government are trying not to raise the profile of this alternative non-binding referendum in order not to strengthen it and strengthen support for independence. Rajoy and its Cabinet are insistent that the original non-binding referendum vote has been cancelled and that therefore Spain's rule of law has won the challenge. It is "excellent news" emphasised Rajoy on Wednesday before the Spanish Parliament. They portrayed such a cancellation as a defeat of the Catalan Government and its President, Artur Mas. At the same time, they are downplaying the new alternative public participation process, picturing it as a "crazy idea" or a mockery.
The Spanish Justice Minister stated on Tuesday afternoon that if the alternative public participation process is about independence, "it would still have the same vices of unconstitutionality" and they would appeal against it. However, on Wednesday and Thursday he has not been so clear about this.
Talking about Catalonia's self-determination would dismantle Spain's "democratic framework"
In the days to come, the Spanish Government's strategy will be clearer. However Rajoy repeated he is willing to talk if independence demands are abandoned, while some sectors of Spanish nationalism are rejecting any concession and opening any sort of dialogue. The former Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, stated on Thursday that reforming the Constitution to better fit Catalonia "is ridiculous". Furthermore, Aznar said that the offers to talk are only "feeding fanaticism" in Catalonia and he insisted on rejecting the Catalan "challenge as the base for a setting dialogue". For the former PM, talking about Catalonia's self-determination would represent "dismantling our democratic framework".
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