Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Catalan President opts for new formulation for vote; other parties not happy

Background (jump to today's news)
There are four political formations, two coalitions of two parties each, plus two additional parties, that are trying to negotiate the celebration of a vote on Catalonia's political future. These are CiU (CDC + UDC), ERC, ICV+EUiA, and the CUP.

All 6 parties had agreed on Dec 12, 2013 on the question and date for a Catalan vote: "Do you want Catalonia to be a state?" and "If so, do you want it to be an independent State?" and November 9th, 2014.

There were several attempts at having a legal referendum. But they died quickly. The Spanish Constitution doesn't really allow for binding referendums, and it also states that referendums about important topics must be voted on by entire Spanish electorate—and suggested from Spanish Congress, neither of which are real options. A large majority of the Catalan Parliament voted in favor of going to Madrid to ask for power to hold a real referendum (and this caused much strife within the Catalan Socialists). They went in April and their request was roundly rejected.

Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy also refused to consider any kind of legitimate referendum on Catalonia's future.

Next piece of plan was to pass a Catalan Law of Consultations (not referendums, and thus not conflicting with Spanish Constitution), which happened on September 19. Laws in Spain don't go into effect until they are published, so the Catalan Government delayed the laws' publication for another week to try to gain time before Constitutional Court could suspend it. A little chess playing.

So, Saturday, September 27, the President signed a decree convening the vote on November 9th. Saturday afternoon, the first advertisements began to run on TV and appeared in the paper. On Sunday morning, the vice president held a news conference to explain the preparations being made to hold the vote, including how the electoral rolls were going to be generated, who would be called to vote, where the polling places would be, who would organize them, what the policy for foreigners was, and so on.

The Spanish Government, immortalized in Mariano José de Larra's "Vuelva Usted Mañana" [Come Back Tomorrow] miraculously held an emergency Executive Council meeting on an unheard of Sunday evening, a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning, filed the complaint about the Law of Consultations on Monday, and by Monday evening the Constitutional Court had met and accepted the review of the law—which resulted in its immediate suspension. They also wrote that any preparation of the decree which convened the vote were unlawful. This was backed up a few days later by the Spanish Delegate in Catalonia's letter to each and every municipality warning them that any actions they took in defense of the vote were against the law.

The Catalan Government immediately suspended all preparations for the vote, which was to take place just six weeks later. The TV spot was changed, with a blacked out screen and information about the suspension instead of the vote. The foreign registrars were closed, ostensibly to shield civil servants from legal jeopardy.

Given the short period of time in which foreigners had to register (from Oct 1-7), there was considerable consternation that they would not be allowed to vote. The Catalan Government was frankly unhelpful in providing timely, complete information about how that would be resolved. They finally decided on October 6 that they could skirt the law by using a different law that gave them the right to attend to all citizen petitions and thus accept the foreigners' petitions without officially saying they were enabling them to vote. Those of us with ties to foreigners' communities frantically passed information around the internet in an attempt to apprise them of the situation.

The Catalan Government also voted to designate the members of the Electoral Commission—after the suspension. President Mas signed the decree. I heard that everything was prepared beforehand so that no clerk had to be involved after the suspension.

For the cherry, Judge Santi Vidal, who had admitted several months earlier that he was working on a sample draft of a future Catalan Constitution in his spare time, was ordered before the General Council of Judicial Power (CGPJ) in Barcelona and threatened with suspension for six months because of his writings. Though a few days later they voted 3-4 to not yet discipline him, the matter will continue through the court system until a final ruling is made in six months or so.

All of these prohibitions and loopholes have generated an aura of confusion and disarray and frustration. This was somewhat allayed by the overwhelming display from 920 out of 947 Catalan municipalities—a whopping 97%—voting resolutions of support for the November 9 referendum.

And then the good dissipated somewhat as Joaquim Brugué, the Electoral Commission member nominated by ICV, resigned after two days on the job decrying the lack of "democratic guarantees". He did not elaborate, though he did complain a lot about the reaction he got on Twitter.

And then the summits began. On Friday, October 3, the first summit meeting took place with representatives from all six parties. Journalists camped out all day around the Catalan Government Hall (Generalitat) but when they emerged that night and one after one promised that they were still united, you could almost feel the relief on Twitter. The spectre of the splinterization of Catalonia's left that Orwell wrote about still haunts people. There's also a general feeling that Catalans are defeatists conditioned by years of Barça losses and more years still under Spain's control. Unity is a big issue.

Third Summit and new Consultation

There was a second summit without the declarations, and then yesterday there was a third, in an undisclosed location which was quickly disclosed by journalists climbing trees (Hi, Quico!) At the end of this last summit, we learned that ICV had left early, that the unity had been broken, and that the Government and Mas had called off the Nov 9th consultation. Well, that's what Twitter (and the AFP) said.

But it wasn't quite true. ERC released a four point statement and the CUP held an impromptu assembly in the middle of Sant Jaume Square (at 11:30pm) which attracted 500 people in less than half an hour. They described what had happened in the last summit: that the Government had proposed changing the consultation to a "participatory process" based on existing Catalan law in order to skirt Constitutional Court suspension. The CUP reported excess partisanship but said the game wasn't over. Mas scheduled a press conference for 10am Tuesday morning.

I collected viewpoints and information from many major sources.

At 10am Tuesday, President Mas explained that going up against the Constitutional Court was like bashing one's head against a wall, and that only result was getting a headache. He preferred bypass Court by not using the suspended law and suggested that consultation rely on existing Catalan law (which he refused to name so as to not "make it easier for Spain"). He said that consultation was never meant as definitive answer, and since in Spain a negotiated binding referendum was not possible, the only definitive answer could be found in a plebiscite with a single unitary list encompassing all pro-indy parties. This is something new that he hasn't said before. He had only mentioned a plebiscite as a last resort to having Catalan people vote, but this was the first time he said it was a necessary step.

• Instead of using existing electoral rolls, voters will register (with official ID) at the door on the day of the election. The President suggested that this might even enable more people to be able to vote, including Catalans who are currently registered in Catalonia but who live in other parts of Spain.

The President mentioned that electoral rolls were a big issue and that he was worried about violating data protection laws by using existing census, given the suspension. He said if people who didn't want to be on the lists began to sue the government, it would cause international embarrassment.

• Instead of randomly selected citizens to serve on official electoral tables at polling places, the President said the government would ask for the support and help of 20,000 volunteers. They decided to use Catalan Government buildings for polling places to bypass any issues with local municipalities who didn't want to participate (as is the case of three or four large towns in Barcelona's industrial belt).

You can read my full account of President Mas' press conference here, including his answer to my question about how referendum/consultation confusion would play out internationally. He didn't answer my or others' questions about who would be on unitary list that he proposed for plebiscite.

Joan Herrera, one of the co-leaders of ICV, the eco-socialist Green party held a press conference in the middle of the day. He said the new formulation converted the vote into nothing more than a 'happening' or an 'event' that was designed solely to "rescue Mas' himself and his promises". Herrera's coalition partner Joan Josep Nuet echoed his sentiments.

Trying to get a handle on people's reaction to the news, I asked a few questions on Twitter. One in particular resonated: Are you more disappointed with lack of unity or with different formulation of the consultation. You can read the answers here.

Finally, Oriol Junqueras, the president of Esquerra, made an appearance at 6pm to explain his party's reaction. He said that the Government had broken the unity of the parties in favor of the referendum and he asked them to go back to the earlier formulation in order to restore that unity. He repeated Mas' assertion that the real adversary was the Spanish State, not the other Catalan political parties. And though he insisted that best option was for the Catalan Government to return to united position with existing pact, and lamented that it was hard to trust people who didn't keep their promises. He also said that he and Esquerra would continue to help the Government in any way it could. It was the biggest anti-ultimatum I've ever seen. It is clear that Junqueras will do whatever necessary so that a referendum is held. He also said that the main priority was helping the Catalan people, the only way to do that was with independence, and that is why the referendum is so important.

Junqueras pointed out two major differences between old and new formulations for the consultation. First that with the first method, which follows the regular election process, there would be 4000 polling places, while in the new model there would only be 600. He also said that a 'participatory' process does not result in a democratic mandate, and that it would be better to maintain original model, which did.

No comments:

Post a Comment