The Spanish government is aiming to remove a minimum number of key Catalan officials when it implements emergency measures to restore the law in the breakaway region next Saturday.
Following the Spanish Cabinet’s approval of emergency powers this weekend, when Article 155 of the Constitution was invoked, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont, his deputy Oriol Junqueras and the other members of the regional cabinet will be removed from their posts. The idea is that these will be replaced with the second or third highest-ranking official within each department.
The option of early elections “is not on the table right now” Jordi Turull, Catalan government spokesperson
With this move, Madrid hopes to halt the secessionists’ ongoing drive to create a parallel legal system in Catalonia as a prelude to declaring outright independence. The Spanish government has resorted to Article 155, an obscure constitutional provision that has never been used before, after official requests for Puigdemont to stop the breakaway process went unheeded.
The Rajoy administration wants to leave another 180 high-ranking Catalan government officials in their posts, as well as the heads of the region’s public companies. But if these individuals fail to obey the law, they will be replaced as well. Madrid is aware that it will not be easy to keep replacements down to a minimum.
“All we’re going to ask of them is to act like professionals and keep doing their job by running their department, so that services will continue to be delivered to citizens,” said a government source.
This same source dismissed rumors that the central government is going to introduce new guidelines for each department.
“If anyone thinks that Madrid is going to dictate orders so the (Catalan) departments of education, health or justice will make changes to their everyday affairs, they are deeply mistaken,” said the source. “There’s not going to be more Spanish language classes at school, or different content taught in history class.”
Rajoy, of Spain’s ruling Popular Party (PP) also said on Saturday that there will be a new regional election in Catalonia within the space of six months. His goal is to schedule the vote as soon as possible so that the emergency measures can be rolled back, and control handed over to the new government chosen at the ballot boxes.
“There are no plans for making changes beyond stopping the kind of unlawfuless that the Catalan government and its allies have been committing,” said sources at La Moncloa, the seat of the Spanish government.
Last week, some Socialist Party (PSOE) officials suggested that it would be good if Puigdemont were to call a snap election himself. The PP, PSOE and center-right party Ciudadanos – all of whom worked on the emergency measures together – all believe that calling early elections would be the best response by Puigdemont to the rising political, institutional and social tension in Catalonia.
This move is also supported by elements of Puigdemont’s own Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCat), which governs in coalition with the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) as Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) after earning 48% of the vote at the 2015 election. Because the coalition’s joint 62 deputies in the 135-seat assembly are not enough for a majority, it relies on a far-left party called CUP that wants Puigdemont to unilaterally declare an independent republic.
So far, the Catalan premier is resisting the idea of early elections. The option “is not on the table right now,” said Catalan government spokesman Jordi Turull on Sunday, adding that the Catalan government will act “to defend the Catalan institutions and to complete the mandate that emerged on October 1,” alluding to the banned referendum held that day.
In the meantime, the governing group is planning to hold a plenary session of the regional parliament on Thursday, a day before that the Spanish Senate is due to green-light the emergency measures approved by the Cabinet on the weekend.
The session could serve to declare full-blown independence in the region, following a symbolic declaration made by Puigdemont earlier this month.
Puigdemont is now faced with the dilemma of pressing ahead with the independence declaration or calling early elections before losing control of his government.
English version by Susana Urra.