Catalan political crisis enters a new phase

Contributed by Joe Montero

Since the 7 October  unilateral declaration of independence, events have moved fast. The central Spanish government has taken over administration, set an election for 21 December and ha started taking steps   to  maximise the vote in its favour.

Madrid has moved quickly to arrest begin the process of laying charges on the dissolved Catalan parliamentarians.

Huge crowds hit the streets again, as soon as the news got out.

Yesterday (8 November), thousands were out before daybreak, taking part in pickets to block roads and the rail network and demanding the release of political prisoners. Under Spanish law, political strikes are illegal and this one was called by a teachers’ union over work conditions. The strike took its political form in the streets,

President Carles Puigdemont and five ministers, including deputy Premier Oriol Junqueras, the administration’s foreign minister, Raül Romeva, and the government spokesman, Jordi Turull, left the country and went to Belgium. They had earlier driven to Marseille in France and boarded flights to Brussels. They have now handed themselves over to the Belgian authorities and are seeking protection.

Another 9 are in the custody of the Spanish authorities and have been ordered to pay 6.7 million euros to cover expected court costs or have their property confiscated.

All have been accused of rebellion. Sedition and the misuse of public funds and face a potential maximum of 30 imprisonment.

Josep Lluis Trapero, chief of the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, has been sacked and faces the possibility of the same charges. He has been replaced by a new leader handpicked by Madrid.

The new political prisoners join Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, two leaders of the grass roots movement that has been organising the street protests. They have been in custody since 16 October.

The Spanish government has now issued an international warrant for the arrest of Puigdemont, who has  said he would return immediately, on the condition that a fair judicial process was guaranteed. At the same time, he has vowed to keep up the political parties to form a united front and contest the imposed election.

The parties have also signed a joint declaration, demanding the release of all those in custody. The exceptions are Prime Minister Rajoy’s Popular Party, the Socialist Party and Ciudadanos (Citizens), all of which support the government’s action.

Polls are suggesting that in a fair election the independence parties are likely to increase their majority and the likely reason for this is that the methods used by Madrid has angered and drawn in some of those who had previously favoured staying with Spain.   According to the GAP3 survey, 69.3 per cent believed legal action against Puigdemont was unjustified while 59 percent said support independence.

The chances of methods being used to manipulate the election result are high,  because for Rajoy and his government the stakes are high. Considerable resources are undoubtedly already being resources used. A win for the independence cause at the ballot box would be a disaster for them, forcing the options of either respecting the result, or ignoring the result and maintaining direct rule.  The political crisis will continue under these circumstances, except that Madrid will be in a politically weaker position.

The danger is that if the poll turns out to be widely regarded as a fraud, this will also trigger a continuation of the political crisis.

The main independence parties in the dissolved regional parliament are Puigdemont’s relatively conservative nationalist  Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT), the Deputy Oriol Junqueras’s the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP). Both the ERC and CUP have been reluctant to take part in the election, because of a view that this would in effect be a recognition of Madrid’s right to interfere.

On the other hand, there is the view that some form of participation would be strategically useful. An alliance is forming on this basis. The ERC in particular, is making an effort to shift the emphasis towards bringing together all forces opposed to Madrid’s use of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, in order to bring in Podem, the Catalan branch of the anti-austerity party Podemos and other groups into the alliance. If this broader alliance becomes a reality, it stands to win an absolute majority of the votes.

The sticking point is that while it is opposed to the use of Article 155, it does not support the Declaration of Independence, favouring a new referendum under Spanish law, so that the Catalans will have the opportunity to make their own choice. At least this is the official position. The reality is that there are internal differences and sympathy for the Declaration is strong within Podem.

It is possible that Podem will choose to not  join the alliance.

Podem has a current alliance with the  Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) and United and Alternative Left (EUiA), in Catalunya Sí que es Pot (Catalan for Catalonia Yes We Can). The same internal division over the Declaration has merged in these parties as well.

So what will Podem and Catalunya Se que es Pot do? For now Podem is conducting a grass roots ballot of it supporters.

 

Catalans in Barcelona reacted angrily to he arrest of Catalan leaders
Video from Guardian News

Crowd gathers at the Plaça de la Catedral in the centre of Barcelona during the 8 November general strike

Video by Hidden Democracy

Fast train AVE station in Girona is occupied by participants in the general strike
Video by Hidden Democracy

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