On Sunday, Catalonia held its controversial independence referendum. The Catalan parliament approved the referendum at the beginning of last month. According to the measure, Catalonia would have to declare independence within 48 hours of the referendum results’ becoming final.
Voters were asked a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question as to whether they would want Catalonia to be an independent republic. Approximately 90% of the votes recorded were ‘yes’ votes and approximately 8% were ‘no’ votes.
The federal government in Madrid considers the vote to be illegal. The Spanish Constitutional Court suspended it on September 7. Catalonia’s regional parliament disregarded this and maintained October 1 as the date of the referendum.
Tuesday evening, King Felipe VI made a rare televised statement accusing Catalan leaders of, “disloyalty,” and saying that they,“attempted to break the unity of Spain and national sovereignty.”
Police were under orders to keep voters from accessing the polls and to confiscate ballot boxes. Police also invaded polling stations, forcibly removed voters, and clashed with protesters. Hundreds were injured in the violence.
The government crackdown resulted in a relatively low voter turnout of just over 40%, and it is estimated that just under 800,000 votes were done away with as a result of other police activity at the polls. This reaction has only strengthened the resolve of independentists. It has also given them plenty of propaganda fuel.
The government maintains that the vote violates the Spanish constitution, which forbids secession and which Catalonia signed in 1978. Catalonia itself is an autonomous region of Spain.
President of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, was highly critical of the violence and has called for some other political entity to step in, “This moment needs mediation […] We only received violence and repression as an answer.” Unfortunately, the European Union has also determined the referendum to be illegal.
On Wednesday, separatist parties asked the regional parliament to convene to review the results of the referendum. A further course of action may then be determined as soon as Monday.
The region does most certainly face an uncertain future. It accounts for significant portions of both Spain’s federal tax revenue and its total population. For these reasons the independence movement will continue to be hotly contested.
Still unclear is what the referendum will actually amount to. The Spanish government has already constantly asserted its ability to force Catalan officials to comply with its determinations.
It is also unlikely that an independent Catalonia will receive immediate recognition from international bodies. If this were to remain the case, do the prospects for an independent republic still seem as bright as they may at present?