Friday, December 18, 2009

Winning, on the EU's terms

Vicent Partal is the director of Vilaweb. This article originally appeared on Vilaweb's editorial page on 17 December 2009.

The results of December 13th should not be lightly extrapolated, that much is clear. The number of towns and cities where voting took place numbered in the tens, and even if they were very representative, they do not give a full portrait of the country. That said, the definitive data indicates for the first time that we could win a referendum on the terms set by the European Union.

The terms for recognizing independence, that the European Union defined after the referendum in Montenegro, imposes a qualified majority, not a simple majority. A qualified majority is defined by two parameters: at least 50% of the population must vote and the vote in the affirmative must be, at least, 55%.

So fine, in the case of Montenegro, the result of the referendum was accepted by the EU with 47% of the total voters in favor of independence. Because (and it's important to insist on this point) the condition is not that 55% of the census* vote in favor, but rather 55% of those who vote, as long as the number of voters is at least 50% of the census. And that is a much lower bar than it seems. For example, suppose that exactly 50% of the census votes (and by doing so, completes the first condition), there would be enough if just 27.5% of the census voted in favor of independence, since this is the quantity of necessary Yes votes that would represent 55% of the total votes in order to complete the second condition.

(We should also mention another important number in passing: in the 166 municipalities in which the referendum was held, the total number of votes in favor of independence was 182,625. In Montenegro, for their referendum on independence, the votes in favor numbered 230,661 in total.)

Back to it, at any rate. To begin, the final returns from Sunday indicate that 26.01% of the total number of registered voters opted for Yes. Said in another way: we know that 26.01% of all of the citizens of at least 16 years of age included in the census of the municipalities where the referendums were held said Yes to independence. But you have to keep in mind that the census that was used is not the census that the European Union would accept, but rather is larger, since it includes immigrants and 16 and 17-year olds. And an analysis of the data indicates that, especially among the immigrant population, abstention was very high, a fact that lowers the weight that affirmative votes would have in an official referendum.

It is clear, then, that setting aside the vote of immigrants and youths of 16 and 17, the affirmative vote would easily rise as high or higher than 30%. And that would mean, simply, that if 50% of the census voted, instead of 27.5%, even if all the other votes were negative, that the referendum would have been successful, conforming to the terms set by the European Union. Because if there had been 50% turnout, I'll say it again, only 27.5% need vote in favor of independence in order to comply with the conditions imposed by the European Union and pass the referendum.

The problem, then, is abstention. Because to get to a 50% turnout, which is absolutely necessary for the European Union to accept the results, we need 23 points. Those 23 points could be found if 3 out of 10 abstainers from Sunday went to vote, which doesn't seem impossible at first glance. Sunday wasn't even an official election and the boycott by No supporters was obvious. Would they dare to boycott an official referendum? It would be a big risk for them...

The data is, without a doubt, insufficient and incomplete. But it indicates one thing that is completely new in the political history of our country: today we have plenty of indicators that lead us to believe that winning a referendum on independence in the Principat is no fantasy. And that's no joke.

Translation notes:
*census - In Catalonia, you register yourself ("empadronar-se") with the census when you move to a new residence. You must be listed in the census to be able to vote, marry, enroll your children in local schools, etc. You do not have to be a legal resident of Spain to register yourself with the census. Note that in contrast with the system for example in the US, there is no separate registration specifically for voting.

*Principat - refers to the four counties of the Principat de Catalonia: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. "Països Catalans" or "Catalan Countries" is comprised of the Principat, Valencia (including the counties of Alacant and Castellò), and the Balearic Islands (and sometimes more).

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