Friday, October 3, 2014

No Vote in Spain

This has been a very animated week here in Catalunya.  As the day nears for the vote on a referendum to decide whether or not Catalans want to remain part of Spain, the pace of the moves on both sides quickens and intensifies.  You might think that “both sides” refers to both sides of the question to be voted.  And you would be wrong.  “Both sides” refers to the Catalan government that is committed to its citizens to hold the vote on one side, and the Spanish government that is committed to blocking it on the other.  Because Spain is supposedly a modern (western!) country and part of the European Union, one might wonder why voting would be an issue.  In order to be admitted to the EU a country has to demonstrate that it is a democracy, and Spain managed to be accepted.  Now that it is a member, the EU doesn’t really want to be bothered about whether or not it is democratic and whether or not it prohibits its citizens from voting and telling their elected representatives unequivocally what they want.

The last few days went like this.  On 19 September, a week after 1.8 million people demonstrated in Barcelona saying they wanted to vote, the Catalan parliament approved a law that allowed for the people to be “consulted” and called for the consultation to be held on 9 November.  It was passed by the overwhelming majority of 106 to 28.  A consultation differs from a referendum in that it does not become a law (as would a proposition voted on an American state ballot).  It tells the government (the Catalan government) what the voters want in reference to a subject of importance to them.  It is then up to the government to negotiate if necessary and to implement their wish.

In its concept, it is more democratic than the usual procedure of voting for a person (here you vote for a party) and hoping that the person or party will do what was promised in a campaign.  When you vote in a consultation, you are being consulted by your government; you are telling all your representatives exactly what you do or do not want them to do on a specific issue. 

Oriol Junkeras (ERC), representing the Catalan left
and Artur Mas (CiU) representing the Catalan right:
Two unlikely allies who have set their ideological
differences aside to work for a common goal

On Saturday 29 September Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, signed the Law of Consultations.

On Sunday 30 September Spanish President Rajoy met with his cabinet, not to discuss how they might discuss this crisis with the Catalan government, but to take steps to block the Consultation.

The complaint, saying that the Law of Consultations was unconstitutional, was filed with the Spanish Constitutional Court on Monday morning.  Not scheduled to meet, the members of the Court flew to their chambers, held a special emergency meeting, and on Monday afternoon the Court agreed to consider it and that immediately suspended the new Catalan Law of Consultations.

Given the great speed by which these high-level bodies met and acted whereas this type of thing usually takes weeks or months to be looked at by the Court, President Mas made the comment that it was all done at supersonic speed.  One might also wonder how it was that the Court, that had never been called to a meeting so quickly, agreed to meet that same day.  It looks to some as if the Constitutional Court simply takes its orders from the Spanish government.  This could be substantiated by the fact that the Court’s President, Francisco Perez de los Cabos, was a member of the governing party (PP) while he was a judge (he later quit his party membership) while he was a judge, even though the Spanish Constitution forbids it.  He was not dismissed.  Why would the PP want to dismiss one of their own?

On Tuesday, the Catalan government temporarily suspended preparations for the Consultation, the issue to be discussed by the political parties in favor of holding the Consultation later in the week. 

On Wednesday, the Catalan government filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court requesting that the suspension be lifted.

It is not surprising that, although it is already Friday, there has been no response from the Court.   In fact, it isn’t clear when they will meet to consider this appeal.  Some things do not happen at supersonic speed.

After writing and posting this, I read a special announcement.  The Catalan political parties that support the right to vote finished their 7-hour meeting.  They include CIU, the Catalan right wing, ERC, the Catalan left wing, the Greens, and CUP the radicals (for lack of a better definition -- they continue to baffle me).  They pretty much cover the Catalan political spectrum (minus the socialists who don't seem to think that voting is a fundamental right in a democracy) and have all agreed that they will go ahead with the Consultation.  They say that voting is a basic democratic right and neither the central government in Madrid nor the Constitutional Court has the right to prohibit it.  

Further reading:
From the Harvard Political Review: 
OpEd from the LA Times:

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