Catalan vote deepens political standoff in Spain

28th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Separatists in Catalonia vowed Monday to push on for independence from Spain after winning control of their regional parliament, but the Spanish government promised to keep the country united.

Raul Romeva, the lead candidate in the main pro-independence list, told reporters his Together For Yes alliance along with the radical left-wing group CUP "have a majority which totally legitimises initialising the process" towards declaring independence.

He had earlier told AFP: "If the state shows no will to negotiate, we will do it anyway, because we have a mandate."

But in Madrid, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would not discuss the "end of unity of Spain".

"I am ready to listen and to talk, but not in any way to liquidate the law," Rajoy said.

Catalan nationalist leaders framed Sunday's election in the rich northeastern region as a proxy vote on secession after Rajoy refused to allow an official independence referendum like the one in Scotland in 2014.

Rajoy argues a referendum would violate the Spanish constitution. His conservative government is seeking to cement the recovery of the eurozone's fourth-biggest economy from a major crisis.

Groups that want to break Spain's richest region away as a new state in Europe won a combined 72 seats in the 135-seat parliament in Sunday's polls, but they won fewer than half the votes overall -- just under 48 percent.

- International concern -

The result was viewed with concern by Spain's most powerful European ally, Germany, which along with Britain and the United States had urged Spain to stay united.

"The rule of law must be respected, whether that be European treaties or national laws such as the Spanish constitution," said Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

The nationalist leader of Scotland, where a referendum last year resulted in a "no" to independence, congratulated the Catalan separatists on the result.

"Many people in Scotland, given our recent experience of a referendum, will be looking with great interest at what is happening in Catalonia," the country's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in televised comments.

"But we are two different countries with different circumstances... The future of Catalonia will be decided by the people of Catalonia."

The separatist alliance led by Artur Mas now faces tough negotiations to strike an accord with CUP, an anti-capitalist citizens' group that does not want Mas to lead the separatist movement.

CUP said Monday it was launching meetings with various groups in the new parliament to negotiate a deal.

CUP said it would insist on urgent social aid measures for the poor and that the coalition select a leader other than Mas, who is widely despised on the left.

"We are going to appoint someone who has nothing to do with spending cuts, privatisations and corruption," said CUP's number two candidate Anna Gabriel Sabate.

- Political jockeying -

Rival politicians and newspapers were divided over whether the results added up to a victory for the separatists or not.

Together for Yes and CUP insisted the vote gave them a mandate for independence.

But Rajoy said their failure to get more than 50 percent of the vote together shows "they don't have the support of the majority of people."

Observers agreed the vote left Spain in a complicated situation as it prepares for December's general elections.

"They have used a regional election for a question that should be resolved in a referendum," political scientist Pablo Simon told AFP.

"The mandate is a bit lame from the start."

The main opposition Socialists, left-wing protest party Podemos and rising centrist party Ciudadanos, all contenders in December's election, said the result was a sign of the need for reform.

Simon, the expert, said the result "sends a very strong signal to Madrid, telling them they have to put something on the table. Otherwise the situation is going to fester."

© 2015 AFP

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