Tensions Explode as Madrid Imposes Direct Rule on Catalonia Following Independence Declaration
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy exercises extraordinary authority to fire Catalonian government
The political crisis on the Iberian peninsula continued to escalate on Friday when the Spanish state moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia following an overwhelming vote by the northeastern region's parliament to declare independence.
The upper house of the Spanish parliament gave the OK to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to invoke the never-before-used Article 155 of the Constitution, which he promptly utilized to oust Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet, sack a regional police chief, and declare new regional elections.
Spain's prosecutor office also said it would seek "rebellion" charges for Puigdemont. In addition, the Telegraph reports, "The national police may be deployed to bring Catalonia under Madrid's control."
"Exceptional measures need to be adopted when there are no other ways to go back to normality," Rajoy said to the Spanish senate. "The government will make any decisions needed to go back to legality, and we will do that this evening," he also told reporters in Madrid.
"If unrest threatens in Barcelona or other Catalan cities," Simon Tisdall writes for the Guardian, "a curfew could be imposed. The main government buildings and pro-independence media outlets may be seized." He argues:
But Rajoy's more cautious allies in the conservative camp, plus the Socialists—the main national opposition party, will counsel a less dramatic, gradualist response. Any perceived over-reaction by Madrid could inflame the situation: increasing international criticism and pushing politically undecided Catalans into the hands of the secessionists.
The crisis reached a fever pitch on Oct. 1 when the Catalan referendum on independence took place. Madrid, which deemed it unconstitutional, has faced strong criticism for its harsh crackdown on the effort including attempts to thwart the vote and violence by Spanish national police.
Though 90 percent of voters were in favor of independence, just 42 percent of eligible voters showed up to the polls.
As such, the Guardian reports, though there were thousands celebrating the Friday vote by Catalan MPs in favor of independence,
Opponents of independence accused Puigdemont and his allies of ignoring the views of the majority of Catalans who wished to remain part of Spain. They said he had declared independence on the back of a deeply flawed and undemocratic referendum.
The Sydney Morning Herald also notes that "lawmakers from members of three main national parties—the People's Party, the Socialists, and Ciudadanos," boycotted the vote, walking out after the debate Friday.
In an interview with Democracy Now! this week, Dominic Thomas, a professor at UCLA who specializes in European politics, explained that a breakdown in dialogue between Madrid and Catalonia, and the inability to compromise, is at the center of the political chaos that has now taken over.
"The independence folks are absolutely committed to going down that path," Thomas said. "And as far as the Spanish government is concerned, that is a red line." He continued:
There is no mechanism in place to allow them to move toward independence. And so, this is really the struggle, is that the leaders want and feel like they have a mandate in Parliament, they've been talking about this for a long time, that they want to have a vote on the referendum. And yet it's illegal. It's this sort of technical, bureaucratic constitutional process that is preventing them from getting to this.
The irony, of course, is that a few weeks ago no statistics pointed to the fact that an independence vote would win. It seemed that there were people who were disillusioned, who had genuine grievances with the relationship of Catalonia to Spain and that were supporting the movement, but that had there been some negotiations, had some of those grievances been addressed, their support for the referendum would have waned.
But "the longer that this has gone on," he added, "the more it has galvanized people in the Catalonian region, not so much because they believe in the independence referendum, but that the violations of these basic democratic principles have been very troubling and have mobilized people to come out and express support for the independence leaders against the central government."