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SPAIN

Catalan parties tie independence to regional polls, creating de-facto referendum

A Catalan pro-independence rally in Barcelona ahead of the consultation in 2014.
A Catalan pro-independence rally in Barcelona ahead of the consultation in 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Nationalist parties in Catalonia have committed to secede from Spain if they win a regional election in September, effectively turning the poll into a referendum on self-determination. Catalan leaders called the snap regional vote for 27 September after Madrid blocked their bid for a referendum on independence last year.

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In a statement published Monday, two main nationalist parties and several associations supporting the independence movement in Spain’s north-eastern region said the roadmap means the election will "serve as a legal mechanism to determine the Catalan people's will".

"Our preference was to hold a referendum like the one held in Scotland,” Ricard Gene, of the Assemblea Nacional Catalana, a pro-independence organisation that was one of the signatories to the agreement told RFI.

Catalonia straddles Spain and France, but the independence movement is felt most strongly in Spain. The Spanish region held a referendum on self determination in November 2014, but country’s highest court ruled it unconstitutional and downgraded it to a consultation.

The political parties have decided to circumvent the court’s decision: By tying the issue of independence to party platforms the regional election becomes a de facto referendum.

“If you vote for political parties that support independence, that means you start this process of having this new state,” Marta Pascal, member of the Catalonian parliament with the Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, one of the two parties that signed the commitment to independence, told RFI.

In the text of the pledge two parties, Convergencia and Esquerra Republicana, vow to work on a new constitution and establish institutions that would form the basis of a future state if their candidates win.

The text says the process would last 18 months, starting the day of the election and leading to "a mandatory referendum on the text of the constitution", followed by a parliamentary vote and negotiations to determine Catalonia's relationship with Spain and the European Union.

Spain’s conservative government opposes Catalonia’s independence, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the roadmap “bad for all Catalans and all other Spaniards", making it so Catalans would “no longer be Spanish and European".

Despite the opposition, Ricard Gene says it would be difficult for Spain to block the regional election.

“I don’t see how it is possible to block these kinds of elections, unless they contradict the constitution and democracy,” he said.

Catalonia is one of the richest parts of Spain and pro-independence sentiment has surged following Spain’s economic downturn and high unemployment.

And yet polls show that most people do not support secession. Out of 6.3 million eligible voters in November’s consultation, only 1.9 million cast ballots in favour of independence.

But MP Marta Pascal argues that voters have never really been presented with the pros and cons. During the consultation, debates were focused on whether or not to even vote.

“We couldn’t organise a proper campaign like the Scots did, to explain the good and bad things about the independence of Catalonia,” she explains. With what she calls “normal” elections, the focus can be on the issues: “We will be able to explain what we will do if we have an independent state or not”.

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