Catalonia’s regional government will be disbanded and its functions taken over by central Spanish government staff, ministers, and police under Article 155 of the national constitution, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared Thursday after his deadline for Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont to bend the knee to Madrid passed without action.
While Rajoy’s government must still hold a formal vote scheduled for Saturday in order to put the provision into formal motion, the gears began grinding at 10:00 a.m. Thursday there. Article 155 has never been invoked in the four decades since Spain emerged from the fascist dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the late 1970s. Its exact mechanics are therefore untested in the real world.
Governing documents, like court orders, require men and guns to give them force when their subjects choose defiance. Ever since Rajoy sent police into Catalonia on October 1 to stop Catalans from voting in an independence referendum declared illegal by the Spanish high court, flooding the internet with bloody scenes of armed men beating old ladies and facing off with angry crowds, Puigdemont’s government has sought dialogue but refused to tear up its independence plans preemptively.
By the time Rajoy’s team votes formally to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy on Saturday, the crisis and stalemate will have dragged on for three full weeks. But its roots trace back much further, to a summer of saber-rattling statements from the minority independentists in Barcelona and unusually intractable responses from the conservative Madrid leadership.
October’s vote was only the most recent in a string of such ballot measures in Catalonia, a region with close to 8 million people where just 2.3 million actually cast votes in favor of leaving Spain this month. In the past, Madrid’s leaders have responded with tough talk but resisted the urge to physically stymie voting. There is some polling evidence to suggest that these previous votes have caused support for independence to fall rather than rise, as pent-up cultural frustrations toward the central state get vented at a ballot box. But this time, Rajoy chose escalation and confrontation, as national police confronted citizens at the polls with rubber bullets and truncheons.
- Category: Europe