Spain is on course for a constitutional crisis after pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in elections in the region of Catalonia.
The elections were billed as a de facto plebiscite on secession from Spain, with the victorious parties pledging to begin the process of unilaterally declaring independence if they won.
With 90 per cent of votes scrutinised, the Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) alliance has 62 seats, six short of a majority, but enough, when combined with the smaller pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), to cross the line.
The election saw a record turnout with 77 per cent of voters having cast their ballots by 6pm, according to Barcelona’s La Vanguardia.
The libertarian anti-independence Citizens party becomes the region’s main opposition after nearly trebling its representation, but will likely be drowned out in the now inevitable tensions between the region’s government and authorities in Madrid.
Catalan president Artur Mas will now begin an 18-month process for independence, setting up new institutions of state, but he faces fierce resistance from the Spanish government. Spain has recently introduced legislation to allow for the suspension of elected officials who defy the central government, something clearly aimed at the separatists.
The Madrid government could even suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, a move that could lead to massive protests and civil disobedience. A pro-independence rally on September 11 – the region’s national day – attracted over a million people. They will be unlikely to stay silent.
– Catalonia is the wealthiest region of Spain, contributing one fifth of the country’s GDP.
– The Catalan language has some 5 million speakers, making it the ninth most widely-spoken language in the European Union. It is also spoken in the Valencia region and the Balearic Islands, and is the official language of the tiny country of Andorra.
– The region previously tried to declare independence in the 1930s during the turbulent Second Spanish Republic, but was later brutally suppressed by the regime of dictator General Franco. Franco banned the public use of the Catalan language and discouraged any celebration of its culture, seeing it as subversive to the Spanish state.
– Since Franco’s death and the restoration of democracy, Catalonia has been one of Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities” and has been gradually reasserting its identity, language and culture.
– Catalonia isn’t the only Spanish region with strong separatist tendencies. The terrorist group ETA has waged a violent campaign for independence for the Basque Country, while smaller independence movements also exist in Galicia, Valencia and the Canary Islands.