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Catalonia leader shifts tack on independence vote

15 october 2014, 12:46
0
President of the Catalonian regional government Artur Mas gives a press conference at the Generalitat of Catalonia in Barcelona. ©AFP
President of the Catalonian regional government Artur Mas gives a press conference at the Generalitat of Catalonia in Barcelona. ©AFP

 Catalonia's president Artur Mas said Tuesday a snap election could be held to let the Spanish region vote on independence, watering down plans for a referendum under pressure from authorities in Madrid, AFP reports.

His change of tack fuelled divisions in the pro-independence camp, raising the Spanish government's hopes of winning the standoff with the wealthy northeastern region. But analysts warned the battle was far from over.

Catalan leaders agreed Monday that the non-binding vote they had called in the wake of Scotland's independence referendum could not go ahead in its current form.

That announcement was hailed as "excellent news" by Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is fiercely opposed to a ballot on Catalonia breaking away from Spain.

But on Tuesday, Mas vowed Catalonia will go ahead with a vote on November 9 under an alternative legal framework, to get around a ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court which suspended an earlier electoral decree.

Mas said the symbolic vote could be one step towards an early regional election which could serve as a plebiscite on sovereignty, with pro-independence parties standing in a joint list.

"Since the consensus is now broken... that is the definitive means to hold a consultation vote," Mas said.

"Although the consensus has cracked, I know full well that the real adversary is the Spanish state, which is doing everything possible to prevent the Catalan people from taking part in this consultation."

Mas said he would "call the people to vote on November 9... in a different form from what we had planned" before Madrid appealed to the Constitutional Court against the independence ballot.

He said the revised vote format would be open to Catalans aged 16 and over but organised by volunteers and with no formal electoral roll.

Catalan political analyst Josep Ramoneda called Mas's plan "a bit pathetic and a result of worrying amateurism" and warned it would not draw a big enough turnout to be credible.

   'Declaration of independence' 

 The sovereignty drive has created a tense standoff between Catalonia and Madrid.

Rajoy has fiercely opposed all moves towards a referendum on independence, vowing to defend the unity of Spain as it recovers from several years of economic crisis.

Catalans have been fired up by last month's independence referendum in Scotland, even though voters there rejected a separation from Britain.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, and accounting for nearly a fifth of Spain's output, Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have increasingly been demanding greater autonomy.

Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in a 2006 charter that increased its autonomy, but the Constitutional Court overruled that nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence feeling.

Spain's recent economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts, but in 2012 Rajoy rejected Mas's request for greater powers for Catalonia to tax and spend.

Mas is now in a tight spot having staked his leadership on the referendum plan.

His new proposal -- seen as backtracking by many independence-minded politicians in the region -- leaves Mas at odds with political allies, including the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which props up Mas's minority government.

"We will try to help the government to go forward with its proposal although we think the other one was much better," ERC leader Oriol Junqueras told a news conference.

The ERC called in a Twitter message for a "declaration of independence".

After Mas's government on Monday admitted the initial referendum plan was legally unviable, Rajoy indicated on Tuesday that he was ready for "dialogue" on the issue.

But Ramoneda warned that Mas's revised voting plan did not resolve the political uncertainty of recent weeks.

"If Rajoy thinks he has got his way, I feel he is spectacularly mistaken," the analyst said.

"The problem will persist more intensely. The leadership will probably pass from Mas to Junqueras and there will be a regional election as a plebiscite sooner or later."


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