About two million citizens of Catalonia took part in an informal straw poll on Sunday to vote on the issue of independence. Despite the order to suspend the vote by the Constitutional Court of Spain, some 1.98 million Catalans turned out to vote on the two question poll. The regional government allowed the poll, insisting that the right of the 7.5 million citizens of Catalonia, 5.4 million of whom are voters, to decide whether or not they want independence from Spain.
The standoff between Catalonia and Madrid comes two months after Scotland voted to not secede from Britain. The British government did, however, allow that vote to take place making it a much less contentious arrangement. Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and Catalonia’s regional leader, Artur Mas, have been butting heads for the last two-year. The conflict originated over fiscal policy, but has since progressed into an issue of independence. The standoff came to a head when Mas approved today’s vote in spite of Rajoy’s claim that the vote violated the Spanish Constitution. A stance that the Constitutional Court agreed with him on.
In Catalonia’s last regional elections, parties that supported secession garnered around 1.8 out of 3.7 million votes that were cast. Pressure has been exerted on Mr. Mas by politicians who are members of these parties to maintain the end goal of Catalonian secession. According to sources however, Mr. Mas says that his staunch support of independence has been solidified by the refusal of the Spanish government to even discuss the issue. For his part, Mr. Rajoy has said that the vote is not valid and will have “no effect whatsoever.”
Mr. Mas organized the informal poll for the citizens of Catalonia to vote on independence from Spain without any official census and, as a way to avoid any involvement of government institutions, recruited some 40,000 volunteers instead of civil servants to administer the vote. The referendum asked voters “yes” or “no” on two questions. Did they want Catalonia to be a state, and if yes, did they want that state to be independent from Spain. In the nights immediately preceding the vote the capital of Catalonia became a huge rally encouraging Catalans to get out and vote. Monitors played footage of Nelson Mandela and the fall of the Berlin Wall and there were outdoor concerts and speeches. According to opinion polls cited by the Los Angeles Times, the majority of Catalans favored Sunday’s vote taking place, however, they were divided almost in half on the issue of independence from Spain.
Catalonia’s autonomy has been an issue for a long time although this vote marks the first time it has been brought before citizens in such a way. After Spain’s civil war Catalonia’s local holidays and language were banned. In more recent years the economic crises has been the cause of strife due to the belief held by many Catalans that they were subsidizing poorer areas of Spain unfairly. Not all Catalans are in favor of this vote or what it stands for. Societat Civil Catalana member, Susana Beltran, said that the reason it seems like so many are in favor of it is because those who aren’t don’t want to speak out for fear of experience conflict in both their social and professional lives.
Around two million citizens of Catalonia turned out to vote in the informal poll on the issue of independence from Spain on Sunday. High turnout was expected to be a difficult thing to achieve due to the fact that the process was declared illegal by Madrid and the vote won’t actually be recognized. Results of the vote are expected on Monday, or late Sunday night.
By Clara Goode
Photo Source: SBA73 – Flickr License