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Spain PM: Authoritarian Delusions in Catalonia will not Defeat Democratic State | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called Catalonia’s new secession plans as authoritarian. (AFP)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy underlined on Wednesday the importance of the country’s unity in wake of Catalonia’s separatist coalition’s unveiling of a bill ensuring an independence referendum will take place despite Madrid’s objections.

“To all Catalans, to all Spaniards, I want to tell you to maintain confidence in the future as authoritarian delusions… will never defeat the serenity and harmony of our democratic state,” Rajoy said at a gathering in Madrid.

Lawmakers who form the coalition said Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million inhabitants with its own language and customs, would declare independence “immediately” if the region’s voters opt to separate from Spain in the vote planned for October 1.

If the “no” side wins, new regional elections will be called, they added.

The bill aims to extract the region from Spain’s legal system — a step aimed at preventing the central authorities from throwing up any legal and practical challenges to organizing a referendum.

It will be submitted to a vote in the Catalan regional parliament, where separatists hold a majority, at the end of August.

For years separatist politicians in the region have tried to win approval from Spain’s central government to hold a vote similar to Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum from Britain — which was approved by London, though it resulted in a “no” vote.

But Madrid has remained steadfast in its opposition to such a vote, considering it a threat to Spain’s unity.

The Constitutional Court has already quashed a resolution approved by Catalonia’s parliament calling for the referendum to take place.

It has also warned Catalonia’s elected officials that they would face legal consequences if they took any steps towards holding such a vote.

And while not mentioning Catalonia directly, Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal issued a thinly-veiled threat on Tuesday, recalling that the army was there to defend democracy and the Constitution, and the “integrity and sovereignty of our country.”

In his speech, Rajoy said: “Spain is a great country because it counts on the energy of many Spaniards, and many Catalans too who are sensible, democratic and moderate, and increasingly forgotten by a… radical and divisive change of direction.”

Catalans are divided on the issue of independence.

Some 48.5 percent are against independence and 44.3 percent are in favor, according to a recent regional government poll — although a large majority want a referendum to take place to settle the matter once and for all.

On top of this, the Catalan executive has been wracked by internal debate over the issue, unable to find a way to guarantee the credibility of such a vote, if it ever manages to hold it faced with Madrid’s refusal. The bill establishes no minimum participation for the referendum’s outcome to be valid.

It has no regional election authority to oversee the vote, for instance, and has not found any reliable companies willing to provide ballot boxes.

Aside from the legal bans of the Constitutional Court, the central government has also threatened civil servants with sanctions if they help organize the referendum, and has warned companies against any involvement.

Catalonia’s regional government has said that while details of the bill will be debated in the coming weeks, a formal draft will not be sent to the Catalan legislature until August in an effort to forestall the Constitutional Court blocking the legislation.

The bill’s announcement comes at a difficult time for the regional government led by Carles Puigdemont.

On Monday Puigdemont fired a senior member of his government for expressing doubt over the viability of plans to hold the referendum, highlighting tensions between different elements of the governing pro-independence coalition.