Catalan government closes ranks, imposes gag on referendum

Puigdemont holds a meeting with Forcadell, JxSí and the CUP at Government House following doubts over the ballot boxes, the date and the referendum question

Silence and unity. The government closed ranks yesterday, imposing discretion in an attempt to overcome the difficulties, both internal and external, to be faced in the coming months in order to proceed with the referendum. At midday, the Minister of the Presidency and Government Spokeswoman Neus Munté, reproached those parties which have spoken publicly of preparations for the referendum. In the afternoon Carles Puigdemont held a meeting in his official residence with the Speaker of the House, Carme Forcadell, representatives of Junts pel Sí and the CUP in an attempt to seek "unity" after several days blighted by differences —as we reported yesterday— within the government itself over issues such as the ballot boxes, the date of the referendum and the question to be asked.

Following several weeks of disagreements within the pro-sovereignty camp, yesterday unity was the order of the day, to avoid an image of internal division. To this end, the President of the Catalan government called first on his ministers and subsequently the political parties to aim for better coordination and discretion to prevent the proliferation of discordant messages, precisely when the process is entering a crucial stage. A stage which has arisen as a result of the government having its budget approved, provoking three main reactions: first, the CUP is pressuring the government to immediately set a date and a question; second, the government is calling for tenders in order to carry out the vote, and third, that the public prosecutor has increased the level of surveillance and is monitoring every move made by the independence movement.

In other words, an explosive cocktail which is applying a great deal of pressure on the pro-independence parties, prompting the president of the Catalan government to attempt to calm people’s nerves in yesterday’s meeting. Also present were the Vice President Oriol Junqueras, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Raül Romeva —jointly responsible for referendum preparations—, the Speaker of the House, the leaders of Junts pel Sí, Jordi Turull (PDECat) and Marta Rovira (ERC), and on behalf of the CUP, Anna Gabriel, Mireia Boya and Quim Arrufat. While meetings of this sort are common, it was not immune from a feeling of disunity.

A case in point was the presence of Marta Rovira, who the Government Spokeswoman had called to task only hours earlier over statements she had made to RAC1, claiming that the government was considering hiring unemployed individuals to carry out tasks on the day of the referendum. Munté stressed that "it is up to the government to publicise what the government does or doesn’t do", adding that she has “no information” regarding this proposal. The spokeswoman for the Catalan government accompanied her comments with a call for discretion. As she avoided journalists’ questions regarding preparations for the referendum, Munté argued that the Spanish government had also not "publicly announced their plans".

The ANC demands a referendum

Munté used the same argument to dodge questions relating to doubts within the government as to who ought to pay for the ballot boxes. As ARA had previously reported, while the Vice President’s department issued a verbal request a few days ago asking the Ministry for the Administration to draw up a contract for the purchase of ballot boxes —some 8,200 if the procedure to be followed is similar to that of an ordinay election—, the Ministry requires that the request be made in writing. Two factors form a background to the debate: judicial pressure from Madrid with regard to every step of the independence process —just today the Catalan government received notification that the Constitutional Court (CC) was suspending the budget items for the referendum— and mutual mistrust between PDECat and ERC, who privately accuse each other of being unwilling to go the distance in holding the referendum for fear of being banned from office.

Against this backdrop, Jordi Sànchez, the President of the ANC raised his voice to criticize the doubts he feels the government has about the referendum. Sànchez aimed to send a "clear" message to the government via Twitter and urged them to follow through with the mandate to hold a referendum, or to "step aside” if they are unconvinced. For Sanchez, the government also needs to stop talking about alternative plans to the referendum and not to "speculate" with new regional elections. In a similar vein, sources close to the CUP claimed that there are no impediments to the referendum if there is true "political will" to hold it, and called on the government to "fulfil its commitment" to hold the vote by no later than September. They added that it was well-known that the referendum would have to held under "adverse conditions" and while disobeying Spanish law. Puigdemont is asking for calm in a path that must come to end by September.

Government receives fifth warning from the CC

The judicial pressure on the Catalan government not to go ahead with the referendum continues. Yesterday the High Court of Justice of Catalonia notified Puigdemont’s team of the suspension of payments from the budget for items earmarked for the referendum. In addition, last week several senior officials received a written warning stating that they must halt all preparations for the vote. Yesterday the Government Spokeswoman Neus Munté slammed the fact that criminal proceedings are the Spanish government’s "only answer" in response to the "democratic mandate" received from the voters. The president himself also expressed his opinion on Twitter. "We will forge ahead", he wrote in a tweet accompanied by a photograph displaying the five notifications he has so far received from the CC. The Vice President and Minister of the Economy Oriol Junqueras, stressed that "the people’s will cannot be stopped".

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