Catalonia’s leader again refused to declare independence. Now it’s up to parliament

  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pressed to take control of the Catalan government, including its police, public media and finances

27.10.2017 - 00:08

By William Booth and Pamela Rolfe

 Catalonia blinked, again.

As confusion swirled around the fate of Spain’s wealthiest region, Catalonia’s secessionist leader declined to renew his call for a declaration of independence — and ruled out holding snap elections, defying predictions made just hours earlier.

As deadlines loomed and threats from Madrid of a takeover mounted, Catalonia’s pro-independence president, Carles Puigdemont, first scheduled, then canceled, then rescheduled his announcement about what would happen next.

Finally, in late afternoon, Puigdemont appeared in the government palace and said the regional parliament must decide what will happen next — a sign that his governing coalition may be unraveling.

The Catalan parliament was scheduled to debate at noon Friday.

If the parliament declares independence, it is likely that the central government in Madrid would act quickly to suspend the regional body and take over authority of the government in Barcelona.

Meaning? Catalonia’s chaotic bid to carve an independent republic out of Spain isn’t over yet.

Puigdemont’s words Thursday clearly upset many of his constituents, who believed they were getting close to forming a new republic.

“They don’t care about the people, because we already voted for independence,” said Joana Romera, 25, a university student who had come to the Catalan government palace to hear what Puigdemont had to say.

“At the end, it’s always the politicians who decide,” she said, flashing disappointment and anger. “We’re in the same situation as before.”

Puigdemont denounced what he described as heavy-handed tactics by the central government in Madrid.

“I have considered the possibility of calling elections,” Puigdemont said. But he ruled it out because “there are not enough guarantees” from the central government not to seize control of the region.

All eyes turn now to the parliaments in Barcelona and Madrid.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pressed to take control of the Catalan government, including its police, public media and finances.

Rajoy last week promised to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish constitution designed to rein in a renegade region “to restore institutional legality and normality.”

Puigdemont reportedly sought a promise from Rajoy that the Spanish senate would not vote on Article 155 — a “nuclear option” that has never been tried. The Spanish parliament is expected to make a decision on the takeover Friday.

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the deputy prime minister in the central government, told the senate on Thursday that “secessionism’s trip to nowhere must reach its point of return, a return to lawfulness.”

She pressed for the implementation of Article 155, calling the pro-independence leaders “beyond the law.”

“By refusing to comply with the law, they have sown mistrust,” she said. “The damage to social harmony is overwhelming; the damage to trust is very deep. They have taken institutional problems down into the streets of Catalonia and into the homes of Catalans.”

Inés Arrimadas, a leader of the Citizens party, which serves in the opposition in Barcelona, displayed a frustration felt by many.

“Not even Kafka’s trial was as Kafkaesque as this process,” she said. “That’s enough, Mr. Puigdemont. How much longer are we Catalans going to have to deal with this?”

Addressing Puigdemont, she said: “You use the name of the Catalans. But we Catalans are divided. And you are hurting Catalonia.”

As rumors swirled that Puigdemont was about to walk away from a declaration of independence, his former supporters denounced him on social media and the streets as a coward and a traitor.

A former ally called him a Judas on Twitter.

Mireia Boya Busquet, a leader of a leftist pro-independence party, said: “Don’t let them steal our republic in backroom deals. Bring it to the streets. Where it started, and will win, despite everything.”

Fellow party members said they would defect — and Puigdemont’s vice president reportedly threatened to resign.

The separatists in Catalonia, led by Puigdemont, staged a referendum this month despite the fact that the courts had declared it unconstitutional.

More than 2 million people cast ballots for independence, though the turnout for the referendum was around 40 percent of eligible voters.

During the vote, Spanish national police and Guardia Civil paramilitary officers used harsh tactics, in some cases beating voters with rubber batons and dragging people away from the ballot boxes.

In Madrid, people called the flip-flopping and vagueness in Catalonia “agonizing” and “unprofessional.”

But many suspected the drama was part of a long political negotiation between Barcelona and Madrid.

“Neither of the sides wants to go through to the most extreme scenario,” said Ignacio Escolar, editor in chief of El Diario newspaper. “Otherwise they already would have done it. I think we are in the last minutes of a negotiation that has time all the way up through the end of the senate’s session tomorrow.”

Rolfe reported from Madrid. Raul Gallego Abellan contributed to this report.

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