Catalunya vote: 80% back independence – officials


Catalonia's regional president Artur Mas says an official referendum is needed

Catalunya’s  regional president Artur Mas says an official referendum is needed


An informal vote on independence for Catalunya has shown more than 80% in favor, officials say.

The non-binding vote went ahead after Spain’s constitutional court ruled out holding a formal referendum in the autonomous north-eastern region.

More than two million people out of an estimated 5.4 million eligible voters took part in the ballot.

Catalan leader Artur Mas hailed the poll “a great success” that should pave the way for a formal referendum.

“We have earned the right to a referendum,” he told cheering supporters.

“Once again Catalunya has shown that it wants to rule itself.”

The BBC’s Patrick Jackson reports from a polling station in Catalonia

He added: “I ask the people in the world, I ask the media and I also ask the democratic governments in the world to help the Catalan people decide its political future.”

The ballot was held in the face of fierce opposition from the Spanish government.

Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala dismissed the exercise as “a sterile and useless sham” that only served to exacerbate the divisions between Catalans and heighten political tensions.

He accused Artur Mas of pushing ahead with the 9 November vote to “hide his failure” in holding a proper referendum.

“The government considers this to be a day of political propaganda organized by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity,” he said in a statement.

Spanish opposition Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez was more conciliatory. He said 10 November should herald a new era, when Catalunya was not outside Spain but “at the vanguard of change” that would lead to a federal Spain.

Voters were asked two questions – whether they wanted Catalunya to be a state and whether they wanted that state to be independent.

Officials said 2,236, 806 people had taken part in the “consultation of citizens” and that with almost all votes counted, 80.72% had answered yes to both questions.

Just over 10% voted yes for the first question and no for the second, he said, and about 4.5% voted no to both questions.

Opinion polls suggest that as many as 80% of Catalans want an official referendum on the issue of Catalonia’s status, with about 50% in favour of full independence.



Catalan pro-independence activists waved a cardboard ballot box at a rally in Barcelona



Spanish unionist parties argue that because the ballot was organised by grassroots pro-independence groups it cannot legitimately reflect the wishes of the region.

More than 40,000 volunteers helped to set up and run the informal exercise.

Catalunya’s dream of independence from Spain collides with some harsh realities on the streets of Santa Coloma, a dormitory town on the northern edge of Barcelona.

Santa Coloma’s energetic young mayor Nuria Parlon is firmly opposed to independence. Independence, she argues, is a “placebo” which would not solve Catalunya’s underlying problems.

The Catalan National Assembly pressure group collected signatures at polling stations on a petition to be sent to the UN and the European Commission asking for help to convince Spain to allow an official referendum.

Nationalism in Catalunya has been fueled by economic and cultural grievances. The wealthy region of 7.5 million people contributes more to the Spanish economy than it gets back through central government funds.

The Libres e Iguales (Free and Equal) group, which opposes the vote, held protests in dozens of cities.

One protest in Barcelona witnessed minor scuffles but no arrests.

Other rallies in favour of the vote were also held.



Homage to Catalonia: People defy Madrid casting ballots in symbolic independence vote

Catalunya teus fills i filles luchand per la teva independència del jou espanol!

High numbers of Catalan voters are determined to take part in the highly-anticipated symbolic poll on Sunday on whether to split from Spain and become an independent country.

“People seem extremely enthusiastic. If you walk through the streets in Barcelona that energy is palpable,” RT’s Marina Portnaya reported, adding that banners, posters and ribbons are being displayed throughout the city in support of Catalonia’s “consultative vote.”

Organizers told RT that over 1,300 polling centers have been set up for what is expected to be a “high turnout.” There’s also been an army of volunteers, up to 50,000 people, making phone calls to people living across Catalonia, informing them where to go and how to vote.

Regional police are on high alert, but organizers believe that officers are unlikely to stand in their way or to block voters from casting their ballots.

There have been several challenges that organizers and volunteers have faced, leading up to the consultative vote, Portnaya said.

“Madrid sent letters to the public schools that are serving as polling sites, threatening them, saying that it’s illegal for schools to take part in an election, even though this is a non-binding unofficial consultation vote.”

Many pro-independence volunteers received robot calls all day long on Saturday, Portnaya reported, in an apparent effort to monopolize their mobile phones and drain their batteries to prevent them from using them.

After Spain’s High Court ruled the independence referendum proposed by Catalan leader Artur Mas unconstitutional last month, the Madrid government has also issued a ban on the informal poll, forbidding Catalans from making any public show of support for independence.

Thousands rallied in front of the National Museum of Catalonia on Friday, however, in an effort to show resolve to stage the November 9 so-called “consultative vote,” despite warnings from Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s government to disrupt it.

People wait on November 9, 2014 outside a school in Barcelona to vote in a symbolic ballot on whether to break away as an independent state, defying fierce challenges by the Spanish government. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)

People wait on November 9, 2014 outside a school in Barcelona to vote in a symbolic ballot on whether to break away as an independent state, defying fierce challenges by the Spanish government. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)

READ MORE: Catalans gear up for symbolic independence vote Sunday defying Madrid’s ban

Rajoy said ahead of the vote: “The law will be enforced. There will be no referendum that calls into question the sovereignty of the Spanish nation. There will be no division of Spanish territory while I am prime minister.”

However, according to opinion polls, up to 80 percent of Catalans want more autonomy from Spain, with about 50 percent backing full independence. With its own language and culture, the comparatively well-off autonomous region has a population of 7.5 million and accounts for nearly one-quarter of Spain’s GDP.

“According to the organizers…within the first four hours of polls being opened, nearly 1,143,000 Catalans turned out to vote – that’s just in the first four hours. Polls will be open for 11 hours. So clearly that is an indication that many are coming out to cast their ballots,” Portnaya stated.

People take part in a Sardana dance, a typical Catalan dance, near the cathedral in Barcelona, November 8, 2014. (Reuters/Gustau Nacarino)

Catalunya Cancels Vote to Secede From Spain, but Calls for Nonbinding Ballot

Students protested in Barcelona last week after Spain's Constitutional Court issued a ruling that prevented Catalonia from holding an independence referendum on Nov. 9. Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Students protested in Barcelona last week after Spain’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling that prevented Catalonia from holding an independence referendum on Nov. 9. Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


The Times

In his latest act of defiance toward Madrid, Artur Mas, the Catalan leader, called off his push for a secession vote next month but announced that the regional Catalan government would instead urge its citizens to take part in a looser, nonbinding consultation on the same date. He added that his government had the right to organize such an expression of popular will and that doing so would not violate Spanish law.

“We have sufficient strength to do what we said we would do, which is to consult the people of Catalonia,” Mr. Mas said at a televised news conference. “There will be ballot boxes and papers” on Nov. 9, he added.

Catalans in Barcelona were among hundreds of thousands in a human chain on Wednesday to show support for separating from Spain.

His alternative plan is less likely to push Spain into a constitutional crisis, even if it creates, at least for now, further political and legal uncertainty and continues to be opposed by the central government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. An informal ballot would also struggle to receive the international legitimacy that Mr. Mas had hoped to achieve with a vote.

In the coming weeks, Mr. Mas also faces a significant challenge in keeping other pro-independence parties aligned with his governing Convergence party. “We continue to go forward, but at the moment not as united as 10 days ago,” he said.

Mr. Mas, a late but staunch convert to secessionism, has been trying to lead Catalonia toward independence without being held responsible for provoking an unprecedented crisis for Spain. Catalonia, Spain’s economic powerhouse, has been pushing for a vote on secession that the central government has vowed to block. Mr. Rajoy is also counting on the support of Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Mr. Mas and Mr. Rajoy have been at loggerheads for two years, initially over fiscal issues. However, tensions came to the fore late last month, when Mr. Mas signed a decree approving the Nov. 9 vote. Mr. Mas contends that his position had been made untenable by Mr. Rajoy’s refusal to talk, even after Scotland rejected independence from Britain in a referendum in September.

Mr. Rajoy’s government has steadfastly refused to allow Catalans to vote on independence and, if anything, has been emboldened by the failure of the Scottish push for secession.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Rajoy described the cancellation of the Catalan vote as “excellent news.” He said at an economic conference in Madrid that “Spain is a democracy and an advanced country, and to comply with the law is an obligation for everybody.”

But Mr. Mas later sought to dampen Mr. Rajoy’s celebration.

“There are people who say they have excellent news, but excellent news sometimes lasts only a few hours,” Mr. Mas said. He added that his government had “competencies in terms of consultation” of its citizens, without specifying how his latest plan could be deemed legal by Spanish courts.

Mr. Mas must now hope a nonbinding referendum can generate sufficient popular enthusiasm amid discord among the main secessionist parties and without legal guarantees from the government of Spain.

However, the possibility that Mr. Mas will instead eventually switch to a longer-term strategy to achieve an independent Catalonia, by calling for new elections for the regional Parliament, raises the prospect that Mr. Rajoy will end up facing a Catalan Parliament controlled by more hard-line secessionist politicians than Mr. Mas.

Mr. Mas changed tack on Tuesday after a long, tense meeting with other secessionist politicians on Monday, during which he failed to gain their support for his latest consultation plan. After that meeting, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a left-wing secessionist party that has the second-largest representation in Catalonia’s Parliament, issued a statement suggesting that it wanted new elections to move swiftly toward a unilateral declaration of independence.

“I don’t consider what happened yesterday as the burial of the consensus in Catalonia,” Mr. Mas said. “The real adversary isn’t within Catalonia, but it is the Spanish state, which is doing everything possible to deny us the right to vote.”

Mr. Mas was also forced to forget his voting decree after the Constitutional Court recently ordered the suspension of the Catalan voting campaign pending a final ruling on its legality. The court could take as long as five months to rule.

Still, Mr. Mas insisted that the vote on Nov. 9 would look similar to what had initially been planned, organized with the help of more than 20,000 volunteers, held in polling stations across Catalonia and with the backing of 920 town halls that recently voted in favor of a secession ballot in November.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rajoy suggested that he would be willing to reopen talks with Mr. Mas, if his voting plan was shelved. “We need to dialogue and speak,” Mr. Rajoy said.

Mr. Mas has fanned expectations for independence among Catalans since a falling out with Madrid in 2012, after Mr. Rajoy rejected a Catalan request to reduce its contribution to a Spanish system that redistributes tax revenues from richer to poorer regions.

The fiscal dispute coincided with hundreds of thousands filling downtown Barcelona on Catalonia’s national day to push for independence. Catalonia has 7.5 million people, 16 percent of Spain’s population, and it accounts for 19 percent of the nation’s output.