Catalonia regional parliament has declared independence from Spain, ahead of an expected vote in Madrid which the Spanish Senate intends seize the region’s autonomous powers and establish a direct rule over Catalonia.
Catalonia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Spain following a tense past weeks of last-ditch negotiations between Madrid and Barcelona.
Seventy Catalan deputies voted for independence, with 10 opposed and two blank ballot slips while opposition lawmakers walked out of the chamber ahead of today’s vote in protest. Rounds of applause broke out in the chamber as members of the parliament hugged and shook hands in a momentous decision that could escalate the biggest political crisis since Spain’s return to democracy in the 1970s.
Thousands of people watched the voting process and the counting live on big screens outside Catalonia’s parliament in Barcelona, and cheered and danced after the motion was passed.
The motion read: “We shall constitute the Catalan Republic as an independent, and sovereign, democratic and social state of law.” The motion calls for beginning an independence process that includes drafting Catalonia’s new top laws and opening negotiations “on equal footing” with Spanish authorities to establish co-operation.
On Thursday Catalan president Carles Puigdemont had ruled out calling a snap election, thought to have been a potential way of defusing tension with the central government. Mr Puigdemont said he had not received sufficient guarantees that Madrid would hold off on its attempts to take control of the region.
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, tweeted immediately after the vote calling for calm. He said the rule of law would be restored in Catalonia. The expected Spanish Senate vote on Friday, which would give Madrid the authority to govern Catalonia, would be the first direct intervention by central authorities in the affairs of one of the country’s 17 autonomous areas.
This crisis stems from an independence referendum, held earlier this month, that Spanish judges had declared unconstitutional; however, Catalan regional government went ahead with the independence referendum and Madrid authorities responded by confiscating ballot papers and closing polling stations, with clashes erupting in the streets.
An overwhelming majority of those who finally did vote favored secession, but turnout was low and there is a substantial section of the Catalan population that wants to remain a part of Spain.