Spain activates untapped law to seize control over Catalonia, dissolve parliament and ‘restore order’
Senate expected to approve the measures within a week
Spain’s prime minister will move to dismiss Catalonia’s separatist government and call fresh elections in the region in a bid to stop its leaders from declaring independence.
Speaking on Saturday after an emergency cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his government had no choice after the administration of Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont acted in a way that was “unilateral, contrary to the law and seeking confrontation” in holding a banned independence referendum in the northeastern region.
Taking Spain into uncharted legal waters by using Article 155 of the constitution, which allows Madrid to wrest back control of rebellious regions, Rajoy said he was asking the Senate to give him permission to dissolve the Catalan parliament and “call elections within a maximum of six months”.
He is also requesting all of Puigdemont’s government be stripped of their functions, which “in principle will be carried out by [national] ministers for the duration of this exceptional situation”.
The national Senate will now have to agree to these unprecedented steps – a process that will take about a week.
Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party holds a majority in the Senate, and the measures also enjoy the support of the main opposition Socialists and centrist Ciudadanos party.
If the Senate approves the proposals, the Catalan parliament will continue to operate as normal until it is dissolved, but it will be unable to elect a new government chief to replace Puigdemont or vote on any laws that go against Spain’s constitution and its statute as a semi-autonomous region.
Catalonia sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades with the chaotic referendum on October 1, which Puigdemont said resulted in a 90 per cent vote in favour of breaking away from Spain.
But turnout was given as 43 per cent as many anti-independence Catalans stayed away from the vote, which had been ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court, while others were hindered from voting by a police crackdown.
Rajoy’s announcement may be a watershed moment for Spain and its €1.1 trillion (US$1.3 trillion) economy, which counts on Catalonia for a fifth of its output. Hundreds of companies have already set up headquarters elsewhere in Spain to avoid a potential legal limbo if Catalan leaders declared independence.
Pro-business Ciudadanos (Citizens) party president Albert Rivera welcomed Rajoy’s measures to heal divisions created by the Catalan independence movement and to provide the security companies need to remain in Catalonia.
On the streets of Barcelona, banging pots and pans and honking cars also greeted the prime minister’s announcement.
Puigdemont, meanwhile, was expected to join an afternoon protest before delivering a speech in response to Madrid’s decision. Catalan leaders were due to meet on Monday to discuss whether to push ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence.
Earlier on Saturday, a spokeswoman for Spain’s Constitutional Court said the court’s website had been affected by a cyberattack of unknown origin.
The attack came as social media accounts linked to the Anonymous hacktivism group had launched a campaign to “free Catalonia”.
The spokeswoman said it only affected the court’s website and no internal information was compromised. She requested anonymity in line with internal rules.
Spain’s National Security Department said late on Friday that an undisclosed number of government websites had been hit in recent weeks with slogans supporting independence for the country’s Catalonia region.
In a YouTube video posted by an account linked to Anonymous, the group announced actions that would be rolled out on Saturday as part of an “Operation Free Catalonia”.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Bloomberg