Catalan government says millions will turn out for referendum

Independence leaders call on voters to behave responsibly while Madrid maintains poll will not take place

The Catalan government has laid out its plans for the referendum on independence from Spain, claiming that more than 7,200 people will staff 2,315 polling stations across the region to stage a vote that has triggered the country’s worst territorial crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago.

On Friday afternoon, the pro-independence regional government unveiled plastic ballot boxes and predicted that 60% of Catalonia’s 5.3 million eligible voters would head to the polls on Sunday in defiance of the Spanish government, the police and the courts.

“Catalans will be able to vote,” said the region’s vice-president, Oriol Junqueras. “Even if someone attacks a polling station, Catalans will still be able to vote.”

Junqueras gave no further details but called on people to behave responsibly and to ignore the “provocations of those who want to stop the vote”.

His words were echoed by the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who told Reuters: “I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist.”

On Friday afternoon, a large convoy of tractors driven by Catalan farmers and flying independence flags rolled into Barcelona to show support for the vote and to protest against moves to halt it.

Both the Spanish government and the country’s constitutional court have declared the vote illegal. Over the past 10 days, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to stop the referendum, arresting 14 senior Catalan government officials, shutting down referendum websites, and seizing millions of ballot papers.

Spain’s interior ministry has deployed thousands of extra police officers to the region and the infrastructure ministry announced on Friday that the airspace over Barcelona would be closed to helicopters and light aircraft until Monday.

(June 28, 2010) 

Spain’s constitutional court strikes down parts of a 2006 charter on Catalan autonomy that had originally increased the region’s fiscal and judicial powers and described it as a “nation”. The court rules that using the word “nation” has no legal value and also rejects the “preferential” use of Catalan over Spanish in municipal services. Almost two weeks later, hundreds of thousands protest on the streets of Barcelona, chanting “We are a nation! We decide!”

(September 11, 2012) 

At the height of Spain’s economic crisis, more than a million people protest in Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day, demanding independence in what will become a peaceful, annual show of strength.

(November 9, 2014) 

The pro-independence government of Artur Mas defies the Madrid government and Spain’s constitutional court by holding a symbolic vote on independence. Turnout is just 37%, but more than 80% of those who voted - 1.8 million people - vote in favour of Catalan sovereignty.

(June 9, 2017) 

Carles Puigdemont, who has replaced Mas as regional president, announces an independence referendum will be held on 1 October. Spain’s central government says it will block the referendum using all the legal and political means at its disposal.

(September 6, 2017) 

The Catalan parliament approves referendum legislation after a heated, 11-hour session that sees 52 opposition MPs walk out of the chamber in Barcelona in protest at the move. Spain’s constitutional court suspends the legislation the following day, but the Catalan government vows to press ahead with the vote.

(September 20, 2017) 

Police arrest 14 Catalan government officials suspected of organising the referendum and announce they have seized nearly 10 million ballots destined for the vote. Some 40,000 people protest against the police crackdown in Barcelona and Puigdemont accuses the Spanish government of effectively suspending regional autonomy and declaring a de facto state of emergency.

(October 1, 2017) 

Close to 900 people are injured as police attempt to stop the referendum from taking place. The Catalan government says 90% voted for independence on a turnout of 43%. 

(October 27, 2017) 

Spanish government takes control of Catalonia and dissolves its parliament after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to establish an independent republic. Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, fires regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and orders regional elections to be held on 21 December.

Earlier this week, Catalonia’s high court ordered local and national police officers to stop public buildings being used as polling stations and to seize any material related to the referendum.

On Friday afternoon Josep Lluís Trapero, the head of the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, ordered his officers not to use force when clearing and closing down polling stations. If necessary, he added in a written order, officers could call on help from the national police or Guardia Civil.

Farmers and firefighters have offered to protect polling stations to ensure the vote goes ahead, and some independence groups have urged parents to occupy their children’s schools during the weekend to keep police out.

Speaking on behalf of the government on Friday afternoon, the Spanish education minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, once again asserted that the vote would not be allowed to happen. “The government has a constitutional mandate to enforce the laws maintaining civic order,” he said. “Nobody is above the laws and whoever violates them will face consequences.”

The independence issue is hugely divisive within Catalonia. While the overwhelming majority of Catalans want to have a referendum on sovereignty, many more of them favour remaining part of Spain rather than becoming independent.

Alex Ramos, vice-president of Societat Civil Catalana, a group opposed to independence, said that many Catalans would not want to participate in the referendum for fear of lending it legitimacy.

“In democratic countries, you don’t hold self-determination referendums if they’re not permitted by the constitution,” he said. “And this referendum doesn’t solve anything: it just sets people against each other. The very fact that it could take place suggests just how fractured the Catalan people are – split in two. It’s not a solution: it’s creating a bigger problem than the one it’s meant to be solving.”

The European Union has ruled out weighing in to mediate the dispute despite requests from Puigdemont and Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona.

“[It’s] a Spanish problem in which we can do little,” Antonio Tajani, the president of the European parliament, said on Friday. Tajani said that although the EU was backing the Spanish government – because “on a legal level, Madrid is right” – there would need to be political discussions the day after the vote.

The EU has always maintained that the Catalan question is an internal Spanish matter, but has also said that Catalonia would have to reapply to join the union if it split from Spain.

The Catalan government has promised to declare independence within 48 hours if the yes camp wins the referendum.


Sam Jones in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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