Catalan independence referendum | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 10, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 10, 2017

Law letter

Catalan independence referendum

Catalonia became the centre of attraction all over the globe when the Spanish region held a referendum on October 1 on the issue of becoming an independent state in the form of a Republic. The referendum was led by the Government of Catalonia and approved by the Catalonian Parliament on September 6 this year.  

Prior to the referendum, opinion polls showed that 71% of the population wanted the referendum to be held, but only 41% were likely to vote 'yes'. Additionally, a previous non-binding referendum, popularly known as Catalan Self-determination Referendum, held in 2014 had a maximum turnout of only 41.6% people of the Catalan government's initial data, of which 80.8% voted for Catalonia to become an independent state.

However, the provisional result revealed that a whopping majority of 91.6% of the voters wanted Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a Republic.  Nevertheless, there remains a lot to be done to implement the outcome of this referendum.

 

First and foremost, the Spanish Constitutional Court already declared the referendum illegal after it was challenged by Spain's central government. The Court cited the Constitution of 1978 which talks of the sovereignty of the Spanish people and the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation in Articles 1 and 2 respectively. Moreover, this is not the first time Catalonia faced opposition from the judiciary. The Court, in 2010, discarded a change to the Constitution that would have given the Catalan language, spoken by more than 75% of the Catalan population, a preferential status.  

Furthermore, the Court also suspended Catalan parliament's session of Monday (October 9) where Catalan leaders were supposed to hint at declaring independence. But this order came after a challenge from Catalonia's Socialist Party that vehemently opposes separation from Spain, not the central government.

Additionally, the referendum in question has been accused of having a lot of irregularities. Provisional figures point out that there was a turnout of only 42.58% of the registered voters. The Catalan government, prior to the referendum, approved a law which stated that the result of the referendum would be binding with only a simple majority, without the requirement of a minimum turnout of voters. But the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy requires a two-third majority in the parliament for any change to Catalonia's status.

The ruling party pointed out to police brutality, arrests and seizure of ballot papers prior to the referendum as reasons for the low turnout of voters. However, with the opposition party and their supporters opposing this motion and the court ruling the referendum illegal, does Catalonian government have a way around? They have consistently maintained their stance that the referendum is their democratic right. The years of cultural and political subjugation under General Franco's regime and the current gap of €10 billion (almost 4% of Catalonia's GDP) between the amount the Catalans pay in taxes and what they receive in services in return from the central government are not unknown to all.

Nonetheless, the opposition party believes that a united Spain will make everyone better off economically. Besides, Catalonia's separation from Spain might also fuel other regions such as the Basques, from following suit, further threatening the autonomy of Spain. But even if the absolute majority wanted independence, how would they bypass the Constitutional Court's order?

In his paper titled 'Legality And The Referendum On Independence In Catalonia', Joan Vintró, Professor of Constitutional Law at University of Barcelona is of the opinion that currently, there are two mechanisms in the Constitution and the legislation under which the Catalan people can legally decide upon the question of creating an independent Republic: firstly, the referendum provided for in Article 92 of the Spanish Constitution; and secondly, the referendum on popular consultations recognised by the Catalan Act 4/2010.

But both of these are quite lengthy procedures and will require active participation of the Spanish and Catalan parliament, holding of dialogues between both the parties, full cooperation of the Constitutional Court and the support of the overwhelming majority of the Catalans, not a technical majority, to demand for an independent Republic.

On the face of present crisis, the best possible solution lies in honouring the democratic rights of the Catalans and their call for self determination in a peaceful manner, which will also serve as the best example for other states that may strive to gain independence in near future.

 

 

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