Catalan President calls for earlier elections on 25th November, which may turn into a plebiscite

“In exceptional times, exceptional decisions are needed”, stated the Catalan President, Artur Mas. After the 1.5 million strong independence demonstration on September 11th, the Spanish PM’s refusal to negotiate a fiscal agreement for Catalonia, and days of speculation, Mas called for elections. He announced the decision in the Catalan Parliament’s main annual debate, in which he stated that budget cuts will continue, although “austerity cannot be the only value”. He also accused the Spanish Government of being “disloyal” and imposing stricter deficit targets on the Autonomous Communities. Catalan nationalist parties are celebrating the call for elections for giving the people a say, while the rest accuse Mas of putting his party’s interest first by deviating attention away from the dramatic economic situation.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

September 26, 2012 02:33 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- Catalan citizens will go to the polls in exactly two months, two years earlier than scheduled. The 25th November elections will become a plebiscite on Catalonia’s right to self-determination, or even on its independence from Spain, depending on the parties’ definitive electoral programmes. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, has called for earlier elections, two weeks after the 1.5 million strong demonstration for Catalonia’s independence and five days after the refusal of the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to negotiate a specific fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain. “In exceptional times, exceptional decisions are needed”, stated the Catalan President, Artur Mas, before the Catalan Parliament, which was holding its main annual debate, called the Debate on General Policy. Mas remarked on Rajoy’s proposal to send the fiscal agreement proposal to the Spanish Parliament, where it would not have been approved. According to Mas and referring to the tedious negotiations for the last Statute of Autonomy (Catalonia’s main law), it would have meant “a new via crucis and a new humiliation” and stated that “this time the Spanish Parliament will not vote; instead we will make Catalan citizens vote directly” on their own future. In fact, the massive independence demonstration, which took place on Catalonia’s National Day (on September 11th), seems to have become a milestone and a true inflexion point in Catalan and Spanish politics, and even in the way international public opinion looks at Catalonia’s claim for becoming an independent state in its own right. The Catalan President, who is also the leader of the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), put himself as the leader of the “national transition” process, which should lead Catalonia to independence. Mas asked for plenty of support through the voting polls and promised that, once Catalonia has reached its national objectives, he will not run again for President. In addition, he also referred to the budget cuts to meet the deficit targets. He stated that they will continue, although “austerity cannot be the only value”. The political parties have not officially replied to Mas, since the parliamentary debate only started on Tuesday afternoon with the President’s speech and will continue tomorrow and on Thursday. However, they have addressed the press. Catalan nationalist parties welcome the call for elections as they believe they will give the opportunity for the Catalan people to have a say. The rest of the parties, including the Spanish nationalists, have criticised Mas for the decision, as they believe he is putting his personal and party interests first and is using the elections to deviate the attention away from the difficult economic times.

“When we go through exceptional situations, which may have deep historical consequences, the population must be consulted”, underlined the Catalan President before the Parliament to justify the call for earlier elections. “The street voice, as it was massive and powerful, must be now transferred to the voting polls”, stated Mas referring to the 1.5 million strong demonstration asking for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. The Catalan President explained that, since his party did not propose the celebration of a self-determination referendum in his last electoral programme, he cannot organise it in the current term. Therefore, he called for earlier parliamentary elections, asked parties to state what they propose and he urged citizens to express their say through their democratic will. “We need the validation from the polls […] this is the only democratic way to assess the weight of majorities”, he added, “as a new period recommends a renewed legitimacy”. “Now we must translate to concrete action the extraordinary moment we are experiencing. We must decide”, he insisted.

“We want to be respected for who we are and not to have to ask for respect every day”

The other main reason for calling for elections, according to the Catalan President, is the refusal of the Spanish Prime Minister and leader of the People’s Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy, to negotiate a specific fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain. “This was a lost opportunity” to make Catalonia find a more comfortable place within the Spanish State, said Mas. He lamented “the political short-sightedness” of the Spanish Nationalism, of both the PP and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), since “they did not consider” Catalonia’s claim for a fairer fiscal redistribution scheme “as a solution but as a problem”. “And from one negative answer to another one, from one scorn to another, from one provocation to another, the [Catalan] people become tired of a dependency that each time harms us more as a country and as a society”, he explained. “We want to be respected for who we are and not to have to ask for respect every day or have to justify who we are every day”, he underlined, referring to the Spanish nationalism attacks against Catalan language, culture and self-government institutions.

“The Spanish language is also part of Catalonia’s heritage, and it is dear

Mas warned Catalan citizens that the road now started will be full of obstacles, because “there will be defamations, provocations, and threats”. “Some will say that Catalonia is going towards the abyss and they will try to use the language and people’s geographical origin to make them fight each other”, he stated. “We have to remind those pretending to do such things that the Spanish language is also part of Catalonia’s heritage, and it is dear [to Catalonia], as Catalan should be to Spain”, he emphasised. Mas insisted in saying that trying to divide people by language or origin reasons is an “aberration”, because “Catalonia’s soul is fed by a mix of people with very diverse origins”, he concluded.

The Spanish Government’s “disloyalty” to validate “its centralist” agenda

In addition, he accused the Spanish Government of being “disloyal” to Catalonia, as it does not honour its promises, or respects laws in place regarding Catalonia’s funding and self-government. Furthermore, the Spanish Government does not transfer the flexibility that “Europe gives to Spain” regarding its deficit targets “to the Autonomous Communities”, “despite the fact that altogether they are responsible for 36% of the entire public spending” in Spain. “Instead of granting a proportional flexibility”, “the Spanish Government imposes stricter deficit targets on the Autonomous Communities”, “which means budget cuts in education, healthcare and social policies, the main share of the Autonomous Communities’ budget”, explained Mas. With this strategy “the Spanish Government puts the blame on the Autonomous Communities”, in front of the “Spanish and European public opinion”, which validates “its centralist” agenda.

The political reactions

Political parties will give their official reply to Mas on Wednesday and on Thursday, since today it was only the Catalan President to address the Catalan Parliament. However, political parties addressed the press on the evening to assess Mas’ speech.

The main opposition party, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) considers that calling for earlier elections “is a great irresponsibility”. The PSC accuse Mas of “having transformed the Debate on General Policy in his first electoral campaign event”. The Catalan Socialists, who changed their leadership 10 months ago and still do not have an official candidate to run for President, have changed their stance on Catalonia’s right for self-determination. Months ago they were refusing this right but in the last few days they have stated that Catalan citizens should be able to vote on a self-determination referendum and freely decide on their future. For them, it would be the best way to solve the current political situation. The PSC defends the right to self-determination but opposes independence and proposes a federal Spain, in which Catalonia would have its national specificities recognised. In addition, they insisted that they also defend social rights such as access to housing, healthcare and education.

The Catalan branch of the People’s Party (PPC) considered the next election to be “a challenge” by Mas. For the PPC “the next election is to separate Catalonia from Spain”, which is “illegal”. “This offensive must be stopped”, stated the PPC. For them, “it is extremely negative”, since Artur Mas “has stopped acting as the Catalan President and has started to act as an electoral candidate”. The PPC “calls all the Catalans who feel Catalan and Spanish” to react and “stop this offensive and challenge”.

The Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) also accused the Catalan President of acting “no longer as President but as candidate”. The ICV-EUiA defends the right for self-determination, but they accused Mas of deviating the attention “away from the social problems caused by the budgets cuts” in the public services driven by the austerity criteria. The ICV-EUiA accused Mas of offering a speech “away from reality” and describing a social and economic reality that “has nothing to do with the pain of the citizens”. They also accused Mas of “transforming the self-determination process in a call for personal support” and they ask for a “rigorous self-determination process”.

The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) respects the call for earlier elections and asks for a unilateral independence declaration in the next legislative term. The ERC also asks Catalan citizens to vote for a wide independence majority at the Catalan Parliament, as “many people have put their hopes in the next elections”.

The anti-Catalan nationalist and populist party Ciutadans (C’s) has lamented that Mas is driving Catalonia towards “the abyss and social fracture”. Furthermore they have stated that they will give their support to any government that does not support independence.

Finally, the radical and populist independence coalition Solidaritat (SI) considered the next elections as a de facto referendum on Catalonia’s independence. They ask citizens to vote for clear pro-independence parties, and not those only defending self-determination.