Catalan police won’t oppose vote: minister
The Catalan regional police will not enforce orders from the Spanish courts to prevent voting in Sunday’s contentious independence referendum if it means creating tension with residents, according to Catalonia’s interior minster.
Joaquim Forn, a member of Catalonia’s pro-independence administration, said “citizen coexistence” was a higher priority than obeying the courts, raising fears in Madrid that the regional police will allow Sunday’s vote to take place.
The independence vote has been ruled illegal by Spanish courts and threatens to plunge Spain into a political and constitutional crisis.
The chief public prosecutor in Madrid has said Catalonia’s president, Carles Puigdemont, could be arrested for civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds for pressing ahead with preparations for the October 1 referendum, according to Reuters.
The saga appears to have given a significant boost to the separatist cause.
“Regardless of turnout or the result this weekend, the Catalan referendum is becoming yet another PR disaster for the political establishment in Spain,” said Stephen Gallo of BMO Financial Group.
“Although the Catalan referendum is considered unconstitutional, the defensive posture adopted by Madrid is only adding more fuel to the fire.”
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has staked his reputation on stopping the referendum, while the Catalan government has promised to declare independence within 48 hours if there is a “yes” vote. The regional police, known as the Mossos d’Esquadra, is one of Europe’s oldest police forces and a symbol of Catalan identity, is trapped in a grey area between the authority of Madrid and Barcelona.
The central government has sent around 3,000 and 4,000 national police officers from around Spain to close down polling stations, with the courts ordering officers to seal off buildings where voting might take place and confiscate election documentation.
It is unlikely the federal officers alone can prevent voting.
Whether police action will be needed remains to be seen.
“The referendum, as such, is very unlikely to take place, at least, a legally legitimate referendum,” Antonio Barroso of Teneo Intelligence told CNBC. “The central government has taken a lot of steps to prevent that. What happens next depends a lot on the cohesion of the pro-independence government.”
Forn said Catalan officers would not defy Spanish law although they may decline to stop voting if faced with large crowds trying to vote.
“It is important to comply with the law and judicial decisions, but there is a superior good to preserve: citizen coexistence,” he told the media.
The Catalan police or Mossos d’Esquadra. Picture credit: Wikimedia