Catalan leader Artur Mas has announced a plan to proclaim independence for the region within 18 months after the next regional elections are held.
Mas, of the nationalist CiU bloc, addressed a crowd in Barcelona on Tuesday to defend the need for unity among all pro-sovereignty parties.
Although no dates have yet been mentioned, the premier seems to favor a cross-party secessionist coalition that would run in early elections, allowing voters to show whether they support independence for the region or not.
If results show “an absolute majority” supporting the pro-independence group, Catalonia would declare itself independent within the next year-and-a-half, Mas said.
The idea of using early elections to act as a measure of pro-independence sentiment in the region arose out of the legal impossibility of holding a proper referendum.
An attempt to do so was shot down by the central government in Madrid, which appealed to the Constitutional Court. The latter ordered the vote suspended until it rules on its compliance with the Spanish Constitution, and it did the same with a non-binding poll meant to replace the original referendum project.
But the Catalan government went ahead and held the vote anyway on November 9, leading to the opening of state prosecution proceedings against Mas and two top officials for disobedience, breach of public duties, misuse of public money and usurpation of powers.
The informal vote yielded 80 percent support for sovereignty, but turnout was around 30 percent and observers argue that most opponents of independence chose to stay at home rather than take part in an exercise widely viewed as illegal.
Polling stations fully closed on Tuesday after remaining open an additional two weeks to allow those unable to cast their vote on November 9 to do so. Around 26,000 people have taken advantage of the extended deadline, and the final recount will be released in the coming days.
Although Mas has been pressured into calling elections before 2016, on Tuesday he warned that he would “do so only if the point is to hold the consultation [on independence]. If it is simply to change the government, I will not.”
In the event of wholesale support for independence, Catalonia would inform Madrid and international organizations of its desire to create a state, build Catalan state structures, and draft a Catalan Constitution.
“The entire process should be completed by late 2016,” he said.
Sitting in the front row at the public event was Catalan Republican Left (ERC) leader Oriol Junqueras, whose party has always been an ardent proponent of independence.
Junqueras said on Wednesday that he was “satisfied” with Mas’s plan and open to dialogue, but avoided committing himself to the offer of running on a joint ticket.
So far, ERC supports running separately rather than in a grand nationalist coalition, arguing that this would attract more voters. A recent opinion survey showed that if early elections were held now, ERC would get more votes than the ruling CiU.
There can be no new country without a clean country”
ICV leader Joan Herrera
Other pro-sovereignty parties were less convinced by the idea. Joan Herrera, leader of the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV), said he lamented the fact that Mas had made no mention of corruption, unemployment or inequality in his speech.
“There can be no new country without a clean country,” he said. Another like-minded party, CUP, considers that parliamentary plurality gets no favors with a single candidacy.
Meanwhile, the parties that oppose independence for Catalonia – the Popular Party, the Socialists and Ciutadans – also oppose calling early elections for the purpose of gauging pro-independence sentiment.
“We are very disappointed to see that not only are we clearly not over November 9 yet, we’re in fact facing yet another [referendum] to keep the country distracted,” said Enric Millo, the PP spokesman.
A Ciutadans official said “the solution is not changing passports, it’s changing the government.”