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It looks as if the government in Madrid is succeeding in shutting down enough of the voting in the independence referendum in Catalonia today as to make it impossible to treat any vote count as being sufficiently representative as to be valid. Recall that the central government has already interfered in the vote by seizing ballots and taking the unprecedented step of arresting the officials who organized the elections. News reports say the police are confiscating more ballots (replacements? or one that they hadn’t seized in earlier raids?)
Turnout is critical to whether the vote today can be seen as legitimate from a political, as opposed to legal, perspective.
Citizens in Catalonia are left with the question of “What next?” Polls indicated that only a minority backed a referendum that the central government did not support, but the aggressiveness of the crackdown has increased sympathy for the separatists. But how much has it moved opinion in Catalonia overall? And does the Catalan government have any chess moves other than the nuclear option of defaulting on its debt, which would trigger a default on the national debt and produce a financial crisis?
Due to the hour, plus the fact that Spanish language reports are likely to be more complete, forgive me for providing only this update from the Financial Times, which is currently the lead story:
Spanish police disrupted polling places across Catalonia on Sunday morning, with widespread reports that authorities were using rubber bullets to disperse crowds, as many people sought to vote in an independence referendum the country’s constitutional court has ruled illegal.
Just before voting was scheduled to begin at 9am local time, police confiscated voting papers and ballot boxes in Barcelona and fired rubber bullets to disperse crowds at the Ramon Llull school in the city, according to local media.
In the town of Sant Julià da Ramis, some 60 national police forcibly removed voters and demonstrators from the polling place where Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was scheduled to vote.
As they dragged away voters who had locked arms in front of the Sant Julià da Ramis polling station, the assembled crowd chanted “Votarem” — ”We will vote.”
The vote threatens to trigger one of the gravest political and constitutional crises in Spain’s 40-year-old democracy.
Elsewhere in Catalonia there were reports of voting happening peacefully, with the 17,000 strong local police force apparently being less interventionist in stopping the voting at certain stations. They have orders to stop voting, but not provoke unrest…
In an attempt to sidestep facilitate the referendum — which Madrid says violates the Spanish constitution’s description of the country as “indivisible” — Catalan authorities have announced that voters can cast their ballot in any part of the region. Poll workers have been asked to download a new smartphone app to verify that each voter has only voted once…
On Saturday, police said they had already sealed off more than half of the 2,315 schools in Catalonia designated as polling stations, with a top Spanish official in Catalonia saying voting would not go ahead….
The 17,000 strong Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, are in the middle of a tug of war between Barcelona and Madrid.
They are duty-bound to obey the Spanish courts and try and prevent the referendum taking place. But senior Catalan officials have said they will place a higher priority on maintaining public order than stopping voting.
The tactic of forming large crowds initially appeared successful; when two Mossos officers arrived at the Verd school in Girona, about 100 kilometres north-east of Barcelona, they asked to enter and, when denied, quickly left to applause from a crowd of some 150 people….
The participation level will have a strong impact on the weight given to a referendum, ruled illegal by the Spanish constitutional court, in which a majority of pro-secession votes has long been assumed…
The outcome of the referendum will have major implications for the country. Spain’s centre-right government has staked its reputation on preventing the vote, which it feared could bring political and constitutional crisis.
Catalan’s regional government, elected in 2015, has said that it would declare independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote, regardless of the turnout.
They could take the extreme step of declaring unilateral independence. This could in turn force the Spanish state to step in and temporarily suspend Catalan autonomy, taking Madrid into uncharted constitutional territory.