Spain's government, press slam Catalan referendum

15th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

The government says Sunday’s poll is an act of propaganda while the press calls it an amusement organised by and for the separatists.

Madrid – Spain's government and leading newspapers Monday scorned a partial and unofficial referendum in Catalonia in which voters backed independence for the region in a poll that drew a poor turnout.

"The poll does not even deserve the name referendum... it's an act of propaganda," said Manuel Chaves, a deputy prime minister.

An overwhelming 94 percent of those who voted on Sunday said 'yes' to the question: "Do you agree that Catalonia become a social, democratic and independent state, and member of the European Union?"

But only about 10 percent of the wealthy northeastern region's population of more than seven million were called on to cast ballots by the organisers, in 166 selected towns and villages. And turnout was less than 30 percent.

The poll has no legal significance as referendums must be mandated by the central government in order to be official.

But organisers had hoped that a strong result in favour of independence, coupled with a good turnout, could push the issue up the political agenda throughout Spain.

Carles Mora, a spokesman for the organisers, grouped under the umbrella organisation The Popular Consultation on the Independence of the Catalan Nation, declared it "an emphatic triumph"

The people of Catalonia "have decided that they want independence and that they want it now," he said.

His group plans further referendums in other parts of the region, including the capital of Barcelona and the cities of Girona and Lleida, next year.

But Chavez told Spanish National Radio "the feelings of the majority of Catalan citizens were not reflected in the poll since the turnout was very low."

And leading dailies were equally scathing.

"Anyone who is looking will find ample arguments to disregard the value of this referendum as a social barometer," said El Pais.

"It is obvious that it was just an amusement organised by and for the separatists, so that those who are not (separatists) were not very motivated to vote."

The right-wing newspaper La Razon noted "the indifference of the immense majority of the citizens".

However, the daily El Mundo warned that nationalist parties in Catalonia will use the result to boost their cause.

"It would be a mistake to consider what happened in Catalonia yesterday simply as a farce," it said.

Sunday's vote came as Spain's Constitutional Court prepares to rule on the legality of the region's statute of autonomy, with fears that a negative decision could fuel separatist sentiment.

The statute, approved by the Spanish parliament and endorsed by Catalan voters in a 2006 referendum, gave the regional parliament enhanced powers.

A sizeable minority in Catalonia would like to see the region, which has its own Catalan language and distinct culture, break away from Spain. They complain that the region, which accounts for 25 percent of Spain's gross domestic product, contributes far more to the Spanish economy than it gets in return.

AFP / Expatica

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