Monday, December 1, 2014

Democracy The Catalan Way

Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya gave a speech last week.  It was a speech that could serve as a lesson in democracy to the Spanish government, to the EU and its member countries, and to the rest of the world.

In his speech, Mas reminded the audience how it is that Catalunya has arrived at its advanced stage of peacefully and democratically seeking independence from Spain. 

There was the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2006, approved in Catalunya in a referendum, approved by the Spanish Congress, and later struck down by the Spanish Constitutional Court at the instigation of the PP party.

There was the Financial Pact, approved by the Catalan Parliament in 2012 that President Rajoy would not even sit down to discuss.

Since 2012 there have been three massive public demonstrations for the right to vote on the question of independence.  In the first, 1.5 million people participated, in the second, 1.6 million, and this year 1.8 million.  The Spanish government has chosen to ignore this huge public outcry while President Rajoy and others of the PP party cynically talk about the silent majority.

After refusing to allow a referendum, declaring a non-binding consultation illegal, and finally declaring a very watered-down voting process that would have been simply a citizen participation without official voting rolls also illegal, President Mas held the citizen participation anyway.  Instead of voting rolls, IDs were checked and compared against census information at the time of casting the ballot.

More than two million people came out to vote and over one million eight hundred thousand (80%) voted for independence.  For having organized this citizen participation process, where the public could tell its leaders, on paper, in a countable manner (thus eliminating the question of silent majorities) what it wanted, President Mas, his Vice President, and the Catalan Minister of Education were all three criminally charged by the chief Spanish Prosecutor.

President Mas said that these are not normal times and thus the measures needed are also not normal.  The only way the Catalans will be able to hold a real vote is to have Parliamentary elections in the form of a plebiscite.  This means that instead of running on typical party platforms, the parties state whether or not they support a specific issue – the issue here being independence from Spain.  Parliamentary elections come under the jurisdiction of the Generalitat and there is no way the Spanish government and its courts can stop them being held.

Mas is inclined to hold early elections and made it clear that he will do so only if there is only the one issue to be voted on  – that it not be combined with other possible platform positions.  This way it will be clear to the Spanish government and, equally important, to the rest of the world, what the Catalans were voting for.  With one issue, there will be no question of how to interpret the results.

He also made it clear that he believes it would be best if there was one unified pro-independence ticket – that this would make it clear to the rest of the world that Catalans really were unified in their desire for independence – that they weren’t fragmented by party politics.   The political parties need to put aside their political differences for a short time – an act of generosity -- in order to achieve independence which will only receive international recognition if there is a clear majority of vote.

He went on to suggest, assuming pro-independence won the vote, that this next legislature would last for 18 months.  During that time all the mechanisms of a state would be put in place, negotiations with Spain, with Europe, and with other countries would take place and independence would be declared.

He suggested that in addition to professional politicians, that a number of people from civil society be included in this government that would include leaders of the grassroots movement and experts in useful fields.  

At the end of the 18 months, new elections would be held.  None of the non-politicians would run again for office and neither would a majority of the professional politicians.  President Mas would definitely not run again.  The setting up of the new Catalan state was not to be a tool for political advancement.  Those who participated in the formation of the new state would do it out of generosity.

President Mas is from a center right political party.  Tomorrow we’ll hear what the leader of the Catalan left has to say. 

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