Freedom! But for how long? And at what cost? On 27 October 2017, the Catalan parliament voted to establish the Republic of Catalonia. The voting process was tense, and members of the anti-independence People’s Party, the Catalan Socialist Party, and the Citizens Party all left the chamber ahead of the (last-minute and secret) vote.
“Independence” lasted less than an hour until the Spanish Senate approved direct rule of Catalonia by the central government under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. Shortly afterwards, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced the most important measures, effective immediately. These included the removal from office of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, his government, and the regional police director and chief (already being investigated for sedition); the dissolution of the Catalan Parliament; and the calling of regional elections for 21 December 2017. In the interim, Catalonia will be administered by Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Mr. Rajoy’s Deputy Prime Minister (and right hand).
The announcement of new elections has received a mixed reaction in Catalonia. After initial celebrations on the streets by supporters of independence, Sunday saw a surprisingly large pro-unity demonstration, organised by the anti-separatist Catalan Civil Society and attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Anti-independence campaigners are taking this as a sign there is a pro-unity “silent majority” out there, but is that just wishful thinking?
The road to elections and to restoring some kind of normality in the region won’t be easy. The anti-separatist parties are putting all their hopes in new elections and in another show of unity like the one displayed on Sunday. They see a historic opportunity to finally defeat the independence movement in Catalonia. Inés Arrimadas, the leader of the anti-separatist Citizens Party in Catalonia, has already invited the People’s Party and the Catalan Socialist Party to join forces and agree to an electoral pact ahead of 21 December.
However, it’s still too soon to tell if Rajoy’s decision to suspend autonomy and run the region from Madrid will do more harm than good. Much will depend on how the central government handles the situation between now and election day (not to mention how the pro-independence movement chooses to react).
Are the elections a trap? Pro-independence Catalan parties now have some hard choices to make regarding whether to take part or not in the vote. The Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and Catalan Republican Left (ERC) have said they will participate, but only as a way to consolidate the new republic, while the far-left CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) will boycott the vote. All of this while Carles Puigdemont, his government, and the leaders of the Catalan Parliament face charge for rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds.
Will new elections in Catalonia help solve the crisis? Or will they make things worse? Recent polling show a possible victory for pro-unity parties, but will this change by December? Is this the end of the independence movement, or the beginning of the Republic of Catalonia? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!