October 5th, 2017 - by André Lecours, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa
The Catalan government held a referendum on independence on October 1. The Spanish government considered this referendum illegal, thereby sending a signal to opponents of independence that they should refrain from participating, and it used polices forces to actively prevent Catalans from voting. As a consequence, the results show a very strong support for independence (90%) but voter turnout was low (around 42%). The Catalan government has shown all signs of making good on its promise to pursue independence in the advent of a ‘yes’ vote. A declaration of independence is expected on Monday. At the same time, Catalan President Carles Puidgemont delivered a televised addressed on Wednesday where he expressed the need for dialogue and hope for mediation. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has declared there would be no dialogue and no mediation, and King Felipe essentially placed all the blame for the conflict at the feet of Catalan leaders in his own television address.
The situation is therefore delicate and potentially dangerous. Both sides are boxed in by their previous statement and actions. After having treated Catalan secessionist politicians as outlaws (an approach which is not without support in the rest of Spain, especially in the conservative constituency of Mr. Rajoy’s Partido Popular), conciliation could be politically damaging for the Prime Minister and his party. Hence, the Spanish government is more likely to respond to the Catalan declaration of independence by charging various public officials with sedition or even invoking article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and suspend Catalonia’s autonomy than by accepting negotiations. The Catalan government, for its part, is unlikely to put a stop to the self-determination process after having chosen to push it this far. Such a move would surely lead to the fall of Puidgemont’s Catalan Democratic European party government, which needs the support of two more radical secessionist parties to govern.
How does this conflict end? It can end well only with dialogue, of course, and dialogue most likely would need to be spurred by some type of mediation. How we get there is, at this point, unclear.