Catalans start voting in festive atmosphere, without police blocking access or identifying volunteers
The citizen participation process on independence has kicked off at 9am on November 9 despite the temporary suspension of the Constitutional Court. Finally, the 1,317 voting centres hosting 6,695 polling stations have opened their doors without major incidents, as has been confirmed by the Catalan Government. Long queues of voters were waiting to cast their ballot in a festive atmosphere from early morning. The vote is being run by 40,930 volunteers, but the Catalan Executive is actively behind the process. During the day it will offer turnout figures and it should announce the results on Monday. The ballot boxes are located in high-schools run by the Catalan Government or in municipal centres in small towns and villages. A delegation of international observers is monitoring the process. Several Spanish nationalist parties and organisations have filed judicial complaints asking for the vote to be stopped and members of the Catalan Government to be arrested. In addition, the Public Prosecutor Office – obeying the Spanish Government –asked the Catalan Police to identify the volunteers opening the voting centres, but the Catalan Government refused to do so as they had authorised volunteers to access public venues.
Barcelona (ACN).- The citizen participation process on independence from Spain that replaced the original non-binding consultation vote has kicked off at 9am on November 9 despite the temporary suspension of the Constitutional Court after the Spanish Government’s appeal. Finally, after days of uncertainties about whether the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, would stop citizens from giving their opinion or not, the 1,317 voting centres hosting 6,695 polling stations have opened their doors without major incidents, as it has been confirmed by the Catalan Government. From early morning, long queues of voters were waiting to cast their ballot in a festive atmosphere. The non-binding vote is run by 40,930 volunteers who registered days ago, but the Catalan Executive is actively behind the process. During the day it will offer turnout figures and, on Monday, it is expected it will announce the results. The ballot boxes are located in high-schools run by the Catalan Government or in municipal venues in small towns and villages, where the Catalan Executive has no facilities of its own. A delegation of international observers formed by several Members of the European Parliament and other parliamentary bodies is monitoring the process. On Saturday, Spain’s Public Prosecutor Office, whose head is directly appointed by the Spanish Government, announced it was supervising the whole process and it asked the Catalan Police to identify the volunteers opening the voting centres and the people who had authorised it. The Catalan Government replied that, since it was the Executive that had authorised the access, volunteers had no responsibility and the Catalan Police would not identify anybody opening the polling stations. Besides, several Spanish nationalist parties and organisations have filed judicial complaints asking for the vote to be stopped and members of the Catalan Government to be arrested. Furthermore, on Saturday the Catalan Government’s entire website, as well as the call centre of the civil society organisations ANC and Òmnium Cultural which were campaign for Sunday’s vote, were hindered by an important cyber-attack and collapsed for several hours.
The participatory process is not a proper referendum and has no legal effects, because during the last 2 years the Spanish authorities refused to negotiate about how to make it possible. They ignored the democratic mandate resulting from the last elections to the Catalan Parliament, held in November 2012, when almost 80% of the new chamber had promised during the campaign a legal self-determination vote. Furthermore, Spanish authorities also rejected all the proposals made by Catalan representatives in those 2 years. They also rejected the repeated offer to renegotiate the exact date and question wording that was initially agreed by 6 Catalan parties representing almost two thirds of the Parliament in December 2013, when they decided not wait any longer for the Spanish Government to change its no-to-everything blocking attitude.
Sunday’s vote has no legal effect but it has a great political importance
This Sunday’s process is not the original consultation vote, which was temporarily suspended by the Constitutional Court upon request of the Spanish Government. In order to respect the legal framework, the Catalan Government launched this light version of the original vote, which does not have all the guarantees of a proper election since it is run by volunteers. In fact, the Catalan President, Artur Mas, recognised that the “definitive referendum” will be early Catalan elections transformed into a plebiscite on independence by the political parties. However, despite it is not a proper referendum, this Sunday’s vote has a great symbolical and political importance, even though Rajoy downplayed it once again on Saturday after he had unsuccessfully tried to stop it for the last few weeks. In fact, when this participatory process was announced on the 14th of October, the Spanish Government downplayed it and made jokes about, but when parties supporting self-determination put their quarrels aside and they started to work together to guarantee the participatory process’ success, Rajoy started to consider it a serious threat and filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court to stop it. This weekend, when he realised he could not stop the vote from happening, he changed his approach once again and downplayed it.
Foreigners and those aged 16 and 17 can also participate
All Catalans aged 16 or older as well as all foreign-nationals living in Catalonia cast their vote in Sunday’s participatory process, which will run from 9am to 8pm. There is no previously-made electoral census, in order not to avoid legal obstacle from Spanish authorities, although each person can only vote in one specific polling station according to their home address. The census will be built during the vote, as it is done in other countries, such as in some states of US, and an IT system will make sure that voters do not vote twice. Voters will have to present their Spanish ID card (DNI or NIE) and they will be registered on the spot by the volunteers running the polling station. Foreign residents from an EU country will need to prove they have been living for a minimum of 1 year living in Catalonia and non-EU-nationals, a minimum of 3 years.
Catalans living abroad are also voting
In addition, Catalans living abroad can also vote in one of the 17 voting centres spread throughout the world in Catalan Government’s commercial offices (to attract foreign investment and help Catalan companies reach new markets), if they have previously signed a register. In fact, the first Catalan to cast his ballot box was a young man in Sydney, where all Catalans living in Australia could vote. Sydney has been followed by Tokyo and Hong-Kong. And the last polling station located abroad to close its doors will be that of Los Angeles. The 17 polling stations located overseas, in cities such as London, Paris, Berlin, New York and Buenos Aires, are added to the voting centres spread throughout Catalonia.
There are polling stations in 942 of the 947 existing municipalities in Catalonia, located in high-schools or, in small towns and villages without Catalan Government’s venues such as high-schools, the vote takes place in a municipal centre. However there are 5 municipalities that will not have a polling station for two different reasons. Pontons and Horta de Sant Joan, 2 small town halls run by the People’s Party (PP) – which also runs the Spanish Government, refused to hand over a public venue. Citizens living there will be offered free transportation by pro-independence groups to vote in another town. 3 others are small mountain villages and citizens will also be offered free transport to go and cast their ballot.
Last-minute obstacles and attempts to stop the vote
In the last 24 hours there have been a series of attempts by Spanish nationalists to stop the vote from taking place or to put some obstacles in its way. They range from small vandalism incidents to significant cyber-attacks and judicial processes. On Sunday early morning a very small number of voting centres appeared with anti-vote graffiti on their walls and with the door locks being covered in silicone. However, volunteers managed to open the voting centres anyway. Besides, on Saturday, the Catalan Government’s entire website suffered a massive cyber-attack that put it offline for most of the day. In addition, the civil society associations that organised the massive pro-independence demonstrations in 2012, 2013 and 2014 al received a cyber-attack that saturated their call centres for several hours, preventing them from carrying out the phoning campaign to mobilise voters. On top of this, the Association of Pro-Independence Municipalities (AMI) also reported a similar attack on the same day.
On Thursday, the Spanish Government’s Delegate in Catalonia, María de los Llanos de Luna, sent letter to all the high-school directors and high officers in town halls to remind them about the Constitutional Court’s suspension and warn them about potential legal consequences. On Friday, the Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, did a similar thing, also talking about “potential legal consequences” for civil servants and mayors, although she refused to specify which consequences could be.
Judicial complaints are filed and the Public Prosecution Office is watching
On Saturday, the pro-Spain’s unity association Societat Civil Catalana filed a judicial complaint asking the vote to be stopped. A few days ago, the extreme-right and Spanish nationalist organisation Manos Limpias (which is not related to the Italian homonym association) had also requested justice to stop the vote from happening and to act against the Catalan President. On Sunday morning, the Spanish nationalist and populist party UPyD - which has no representation Catalonia’s main institutions - and the extreme-right and xenophobic party PxC filed a complaint asking the judge to act urgently and stop the vote. Extreme-right party Falange, which was the only political party allowed during Franco's dictatorship, also filed a complaint.
These judicial complaints are to be added to the warning sent on Saturday by the Public Prosecutor Office, whose Director is directly appointed by the Spanish Justice Minister and reports to him. The Public Prosecutor launched an investigation into the participatory process. In addition, in the evening, it asked the Mossos d’Esquadra police force – run by the Catalan Government – to identify the people opening the voting centres and those who had authorised it. A few minutes after, the Catalan Government replied that it was the Government that had authorised the access and that volunteers were not responsible and therefore would not be identified by police. And this morning, voting centres opened at 9am, without police blocking the access, nor identifying people.