Spanish parties united against referendum
From Rajoy to Sánchez to Rivera, the leaders of Spain’s main political groups speak out against October 1 vote
If one thing unites the Catalan and Spanish governments, it is the claim each make that they are acting in the defense of democracy. With expectation growing that the Catalan government will this week unilaterally call an independence referendum for October 1, the Spanish executive was busy on Monday preparing for the coming political battle. “A democratic government that goes against the fundamental law of democracy, the Constitution, cannot exist,” said Spanish President Mariano Rajoy. Calling the planned referendum “a scam”, Rajoy pledged that his government would respond to the calling of the vote “with firmness, intelligence, proportionality and calmness.”
Rajoy gave a wide-ranging rejection of the referendum, arguing that even as president he did not have the authority to negotiate Spain’s sovereignty and that the pro-independence parties had forged ahead with their project despite knowing it was illegal and without international support. What’s more, Rajoy accused the pro-independence parties of splitting Catalan society and putting the country’s institutions into the hands of radicals and extremists.
With the bills enabling the referendum expected to be passed in the Catalan Parliament this week, Rajoy insisted that the pro-independence parties would not succeed. “They cannot have a referendum like they want because they do not have the powers and there is no law that authorizes them,” he said, adding: “It is not on the order of the day for Wednesday’s plenary session and there is no time to pass it. And if they do, it will be illegal.”
"They cannot have a referendum like they want because they do not have the powers and there is no law that authorizes them"
Mariano Rajoy · Spanish president
Meanwhile, Spanish vice president, Soraya Saénz de Santamaría, insisted that even if the Catalan government has ballot boxes for the October vote, the Spanish executive will ensure they are never deployed, although she refused to reveal any of her government’s plans. Talking to the SER radio station on Monday, Saénz de Santamaría did say that her government intends to stay in constant contact with opposition Spanish parties PSOE and Ciudadanos, so as to provide a common front against the drive for independence.
Unblocking the Catalan situation
In fact, PSOE leader, Pedro Sánchez, announced that his party will on Thursday petition the Spanish Congress to set up a committee to begin a debate on how Spain’s territorial system is organized. Sánchez said that he would inform Rajoy, as well as the other opposition leaders, Pablo Iglesias (Podemos) and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos), of his intention on Monday or Tuesday. Whether the initiative is accepted before or after October 1, the date set for the independence referendum, matters less to Sánchez than that the debate begin. “If we manage it, it will be the first major agreement to unblock the situation in Catalonia,” he said.
While the socialist leader’s tone was softer than that of Spanish government officials, Sánchez and his party are nevertheless very much in favor of Spanish unity. Warning the Catalan government that “in a democracy unilateral paths do not exist,” Sánchez said that “the solution is called dialogue” and that “the aim is to reconcile the peoples of Spain.” “If between us all we create a space for dialogue, the message we will send to Spain and Catalan society will be the most powerful of its kind in recent years: our determination to reconstruct unity between the peoples of Spain,” he said
For his part, Ciudadanos leader, Rivera, was less tactful in his rejection of the Catalan government’s intentions. Referring to Puigdemont’s “craziness”, Rivera said he would not be surprised if the president were to proclaim independence from the balcony of the Catalan government building. Rivera also called on the Podemos party not to give any support to the pro-independence parties, and for Rajoy and Sánchez to show unity against them. “Let the government act with all and each of the mechanisms at its disposal. The rule of law has to triumph,” he said.