Spain: Tensions mount ahead of the Catalan independence referendum
Tensions are building in Spain's Catalan region ahead of an independence referendum earlier prohibited by Madrid. According to ground reports, thousands of people who want Catalonia to be independent have occupied voting centers overnight. Meanwhile, the Spanish government has increased the deployment of police and paramilitary to the region in a bid to enforce the ban. What is the referendum all about?
Catalonia is an area located in the north-east of Spain and is considered to be among its richest and most industrialized areas. With its capital in Barcelona, Catalonia has a distinct identity and language from Spain.
The Spanish Supreme Court in 2010 reversed parts of a 2006 statute granting autonomy to Catalonia, angering its people. Independence supporters maintain that they have repeatedly been subjected to periodic campaigns to "make them more Spanish." Moreover, the 2008 economic crisis affected the region badly, along with the rest of Spain and Europe, thus strengthening arguments for independence.
The Catalan Parliament enacted its own law to conduct a referendum in early-September. It sought to answer the question, "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?" In response, the Spain's constitutional court annulled the legislation. Since then, Madrid has moved for a massive deployment of police and paramilitary in the region and forcefully seized voting material.
Results from an opinion poll conducted in July 2017 indicated that 41% of Catalonia's population was in favor of independence while 49% was against it. An informal non-binding referendum conducted in November 2014 saw 80% of voters backing independence.
As Madrid is tightening its grip on Catalonia, the independent supporters seem to be growing increasingly adamant about conducting the referendum. Majority of voters are likely to vote "yes" for independence. It needs to be seen if the Spanish government will risk resorting to extreme measures to stop the vote from happening. In any case, Spain is unlikely to let go off Catalonia.