By Mahasweta Muthusubbarayan
After a unilateral declaration of independence by the Catalan Government on 27 October, the Spanish Central Government invoked extraordinary powers conferred under Art. 155 of the Spanish Constitution to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, to fire and dissolve the Catalonian Parliament and scheduled fresh regional elections to be held on 21 December. After this, judicial action was initiated against many of the central figures in the Catalan Independence Movement. The intention is to send a message that extra-constitutional actions by the autonomous regions will not be tolerated.
Imminent leaders face court proceedings
In the aftermath of governmental action, several Catalonian leaders are facing court proceedings. Carles Puigdemont (the deposed Catalan President), Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig and Clara Ponsati have gone on a self-imposed exile in Belgium and have European Arrest Warrants issued against them. Belgium judiciary is yet to decide on the enforcement of these warrants. Puigdemont has stated that he will not seek political asylum from Belgium. Oriol Junqueras (deposed Vice-President), Joaquim Forn, Carles Mundo, Dolors Bassa, Raul Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Meritxell Boras, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez are under arrest. Carme Forcadell (deposed Parliament Speaker), Santi Vila, Lluis Maria Corominas, Anna Simo, Lluis Guino and Ramona Barrufet are out on bail.
The charges against these leaders include misuse of public funds, breach of trust, sedition, disobedience to authority and rebellion. Proceedings are pending in a national court, Audiencia Nacional (Spain’s top criminal court) and the Spanish Supreme Court.
The Barcelona rally
Around 750,000 people took out a rally in Barcelona, seeking the immediate release of the Catalan leaders. Protestors even came from small towns and cities all over Barcelona, indicating widespread disapproval of the National Government’s crackdown against the former Catalonian authorities. They carried a banner declaring themselves as a republic and their jailed leaders as political prisoners. Many of the protestors also carried the pro-independence “Estelada” flags, signifying that most of them were supporters of the pro-independence movement.
However, support for the jailed Catalan leaders has also come in from unexpected quarters. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos Party, does not support Catalonian independence but has hit out strongly against the imprisonment and detention of Catalonian leaders. The rally gains significance ahead of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s first visit to Barcelona after the invocation of Art. 155. He will address a campaign meeting of his centre-right Popular Party with an eye on the regional elections in December.
The significance of the December elections
The outcome of the December regional elections will be reflective of the wishes of the electorate on the subject of Catalonian independence. It is to be remembered that less than half of the Catalonian electorate participated in the referendum for independence and there is a large portion of the populace which is in favour of remaining with Spain. Catalonian independence has also not been recognized by foreign States and the European Union threatened to cast out an independent Catalonia. The Spanish Government has issued a statement saying that any leader can participate in the elections so long as they have not been convicted of any crimes. Since neither the extradition process of the leaders in Belgium nor the Court proceedings in Spain are likely to be concluded within a span of one month, the deposed Catalonian leaders are all likely to participate in the elections.
Who will contest?
Puigdemont’s Democratic Party of Catalonia and Junqueras’ Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya have already declared their intention to participate. There have also been calls for a coalition of the parties opposed to direct Spanish rule, which has found support from Puigdemont. Earlier this week, the Catalonian Mayors travelled to Brussels to show solidarity with Puigdemont. Only the Barcelonan mayor is in favour of remaining with Spain. A victory for the pro-independence parties in the upcoming elections will give them a fresh chance to push for independence while a victory for PM Rajoy’s party will be seen as an endorsement of his Government’s response to the Catalonian secession movement. The Vice-President of the Spanish Senate has warned that Art. 155 will be reapplied if any fresh secession bids arose after the elections. So whichever way the results of the elections swing, high drama can be expected. And it is in this context that the campaign of Spanish political leaders, including Mr Rajoy’s, gains significance, as they all fight for Catalonia’s approval.