Catalan President ready to call early elections to achieve independence from Spain in 18 months

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, proposed the next steps in Catalonia’s self-determination process: early elections to the Catalan Parliament and, if a single pro-independence list get an absolute majority, negotiations to reach full independence in 18 months. Such a list should be formed by independent personalities and recognised professionals, who should commit to only run once, with traditional parties adopting a secondary role. After negotiating independence and building the new state’s basic structures, a referendum to ratify the new state’s genesis and constituent elections would be called, in which traditional parties would again be running separately. Mas said he was ready to be the front-runner or to end such a list, the latter case ruling out the possibility of his being re-elected. However, he will only call early elections if parties and civil society organisations transform them into such a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence. After years of peaceful citizen mobilisations, now “it is time for the definitive vote” and the “only” way of doing it is through early elections, he said.

The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, addressing Barcelona's Fòrum Auditorium on Tuesday (by R. Garrido)
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, addressing Barcelona's Fòrum Auditorium on Tuesday (by R. Garrido) / ACN


November 25, 2014 11:57 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, gave a solemn speech on Tuesday evening in Barcelona to propose the next steps in Catalonia’s self-determination process. “It is time for the definitive consultation vote” on independence to take place, Mas stated after 2.3 million people participated in a symbolic vote on independence on November 9. Taking into account the Spanish Government’s no-to-everything attitude over the last 2 years, the “only tool” to allow citizens to decide on their own collective future as a nation is early elections to the Catalan Parliament, organised within the current legal framework, he emphasised. Mas affirmed being “ready” to call such elections but under a specific condition: parties and civil society organisations have to transform them into a ‘de facto’ referendum on independence, as otherwise there is no need for early elections, he stressed. However, Mas highlighted the urgent necessity to become an independent state in order to have “the tools” to improve the lives of citizens and to better fight poverty, unemployment or corruption, after “the Spanish State has let us down” on many occasions. Now,political parties should be “generous” and respected personalities and professionals from the Catalan society should run in a single list that should clearly stand for independence, making other issues secondary, according to Mas. If such a list obtained an absolute majority, independence should be negotiated with Spanish, European and international organisations within the next 18 months. People forming this list should commit to only run once and the Catalan President said he was ready to be this list’s front-runner but also to end it, the latter case ruling out the possibility of his being elected. In these 18 months, the new state’s basic structures should be built and a citizen participation process should be launched to debate the new Constitution. Then, after those 18 months, constituent elections and a referendum to ratify the achieved independence should be called, with political parties taking a main role once again. Mas did not disclose when the early elections should be called but he said that the entire process to build the new state should be finished by the end of 2016. Therefore, early elections should be called within the next 6 months, during which time Mas also insisted that parties have to better explain what the independent state will be like.

On Tuesday evening, the Catalan President proposed a road map for the next two years: early elections to the Catalan Parliament and, if a single pro-independence list get an absolute majority, negotiations to reach full independence in 18 months. Mas recognised that there will be parties that will not recognise the plebiscite nature of these early elections. Hence, he stressed, the importance of running in a single list that supports, without any doubts, the creation of an independent Catalan state. In addition, partisan fights and ideologies ¨should be put aside” for the benefit of “shared ideals”, Mas stated. The Catalan President recognised that the process and steps ahead are “difficult”, but he asked citizens and parties to think of the generations to come and of the “people who gave their lives” in the past to grant Catalans a better life. In fact, Mas highlighted that independence was not an objective in itself but a means to obtain “better” and “more tools” to improve the lives of citizens.

Mas gave his speech in Barcelona’s Fòrum Auditorium in front of 3,000 people. He emphasised that he was speaking “as the President of Catalonia”, and not on behalf of the Government nor any political party. The audience clapped on many occasions during the 1-hour-and-20-minute speech, particularly when he was referring to the Spanish authorities prosecuting him, the need to form a single list, to not call elections if they are not transformed into an independence plebiscite, the promise not to run again after the next elections and the opportunity to build a country with less corruption.

The ERC leader was present

Within the audience, were all the members of the Catalan Government and many representatives from several political parties, business associations and civil society organisations. Among the attendees, the leader of the left-wing Catalan independence party ERC, Oriol Junqueras, was present, which was significant taking into account the increasing speculation that he could run together with Mas. However, there were also important absentees such as the historical ‘number 2’ of Mas’ coalition; Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who leads the Christian-Democrat party UDC, the smallest force within the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU. In fact, two days ago, Duran presented his own political platform that supports granting Catalonia more powers within Spain, pointing towards CiU’s likely division.

There was great expectation for Mas’ speech after November 9’s symbolic vote. The Catalan President did not want to rush after the citizen participation process and at that time he announced he was taking two weeks to reflect on the next steps. He also held a round of talks with political parties supporting self-determination to gather their views and proposals. Furthermore, he sent a last offer to the Spanish Prime Minister to negotiate a mutually-agreed self-determination referendum, but Mariano Rajoy rejected the offer. In fact, the Spanish Government has been rejecting all offers of negotiation during the last 2 years and has ignored all the self-determination demands from Catalonia.

The Spanish Government has been ignoring “the absolute majority” for Catalonia’s self-determination

During his speech, Mas made an overview of the Spanish Government’s attitude for the last 2 years, but also of the relations between Catalonia and Spain for a longer period of time. He highlighted Rajoy’s blocking and no-to-everything attitude, he who has rejected all the proposals sent from Catalonia and has not made any proposals of his own to solve the current political problem. Furthermore, Mas stressed how the Spanish Government was talking about the “silent majorities” during the massive pro-independence demonstrations but “was paradoxically ignoring the absolute majority at the Catalan Parliament that supports Catalonia’s right to self-determination”. In fact, in the previous Catalan elections, held in November 2012, 80% of the newly-elected MPs ran promising a legal self-determination vote.

Mas highlighted how Catalan parties had traditionally contributed to modernise Spain since the 19th century and had been essential in crucial moments in to order to pass the main reforms during the last 35 years of democratic regime. However, the times to modernise Spain seem to be over. Catalans have had and are having a permanent desire to govern themselves, which has been expressed on many occasions during the last few centuries. This is as much “a constant of Catalan identity” as was “the belonging within Spain”. However, now both things do not seem to be compatible any longer, as Spain is carrying out a recentralisation process and attacking Catalan powers and language, he said. 

Mas recognised he was skeptical about whether Spain could change, taking into account its attitude over the last few years, starting with the approval process of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy (between 2005 and 2010). In fact, Mas recognised he had almost no hope at all. Nonetheless, “as Catalan President” he will always be willing to sit and talk, and listen to any proposal from the Spanish Government. However, such a proposal will have to be voted by Catalans. “The time for closed-door agreements is over”, he stated, while receiving a round of applause.

“It’s the time for the definitive consultation vote”

Now, the political process that started two years ago with the first massive pro-independence demonstration "has to be completed", emphasised Mas. “We need to know with precision whether there is a majority to build an independent state or not”, he highlighted. “Everybody should be interested in finding this out”, as the current situation and uncertainty cannot be extended over time. With their peaceful demonstrations of the last years, Catalans have earned their right to hold such a vote. Furthermore, with such festive and civic minded-mobilisations, Catalans are already contributing to make the world a better place, said Mas. “It’s the time for the definitive consultation vote”, he stressed.

“Democracy” rules out any violent repression against Catalans and “globalization has torn down borders, also the mental ones”. These are two of the main factors why Catalans can now ask themselves whether or not they want to split from Spain. However, the greatest reason is that “the Spanish State has let us down and is continuing to let us down” on many occasions,stated Mas recalling many events from the last few years. The Spanish State, including the People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), has rejected the proposals to increase Catalonia’s self-government, has been recentralising powers and attacking Catalan culture and language.

Spain was imposing things on Catalonia

Furthermore, Spain is not treating Catalonia “as an equal” but “imposes” things and there is a clear “hierarchical” framework, in which “one orders and the other obeys”. When Catalonia only complains a little, things are fine, but when Catalonia increases the tone of its demands, then repression starts. This has been repeated throughout history and it has also been the case now in times of democracy; hence the great disappointment by a large part of Catalan society.

On November 9, Catalonia became “an adult country”, it “was not underage any longer”. It became a “more liberated country”, “more confident of itself”, emphasised Mas. This “does not mean automatic emancipation”, but it represents “a change of status”, he noticed. And now Catalonia is ready to build an independent country, he pointed out.

The Catalan President was also critical of the self-determination process and highlighted some mistakes that should not be repeated, such as long-discussions about secondary issues and the fact of mixing the roles of civil society and public institutions. However, he also praised the combined efforts of civil society organisations, public  powers and individual citizens, carried out in a civic-minded and peaceful attitude. In fact, Mas was asking for a political leadership from the public and democratic institutions and for moving forward in a brave and yet cautious way, combining determination and prudence in the months ahead. The Catalan President warned that the final stages of complex processes tend to be the hardest ones, but he also added that Catalonia has proven to be ready for the challenge.

Mas’ formula for the early elections 

At this point, Mas announced the need for early elections as the only way to continue and take the definitive step in Catalonia’s self-determination process. Parties supporting independence could run in several lists, but at least one wide and shared list should obtain an absolute majority in order to launch the independence negotiations and start building the new state. Mas listed 7 conditions: a single list obtaining an absolute majority; formed by politicians but particularly by independents from the civil society and recognised professionals to build the new state structures; candidates agreeing to only run once; being in office for 18 months and afterwards calling constituent elections and a ratification referendum; that parties would step aside and would run again in 18 months; that the shared list would be funded through a newly-created foundation and donations; and, that the public funds received after the elections would be split between the political parties in order to guarantee their funding during the next 18 months.

The new Catalan Parliament and Government should launch a negotiation process with Spanish, European and international organisations for a maximum time of 18 months. International mediation should not be excluded in order to reach a “fair” agreement “for all the parties”, since this process does not go against Spain and a mutually-beneficial agreement should be reached. In addition, the newly elected Catalan authorities should start building the new state’s structures, such as a tax administration, a social security system, etc. Furthermore, they should launch a citizen participation process to debate a future Catalan Constitution, which should be drafted by a future new Parliament after constituent elections are called. Furthermore, the Catalan Government should guarantee that public services keep running during the negotiation period. Finally, they should call for such constituent elections and a final referendum to ratify the whole process.