"We refuse to accept the threats and intimidations from the PP government [in Madrid]". That’s how firmly the minister for the Presidency and government spokesperson, Neus Munté, reacted in the face of the Spanish government’s warning that it will inform the public prosecutor of any steps taken by the Catalan executive towards buying ballot boxes. Later, on Tuesday, the tender of a framework agreement to buy such ballot boxes was published in the Catalan government’s official gazette. Munté warned the Spanish authorities that “we won’t allow threats and intimidations, nor [any] towards the companies”.
In a press conference following a cabinet meeting, Munté criticised the Spanish government for exploring legal avenues before the Catalan government had even taken the first step towards purchasing ballot boxes. “No law forbids it”, the minister said, adding that “it wouldn’t make any sense to start an inquest”. As such, she reiterated that they wouldn’t let Spain “threaten” either the Catalan executive or the companies. “We’ll stand by the companies’ ability to work, to conduct their business as usual”.
However, when asked how suppliers would be protected in the face of these “threats”, Munté only replied that for now “these threats haven’t become anything more”, but added that, if that were to happen, the Catalan executive would support the companies. Precisely while the press conference was in progress, it came out that the public prosecutor's office is already preparing legal action.
The cabinet also argued for the inclusion of both acrylic and cardboard ballot boxes in the order – for an estimated total cost of €200k – given that, they say, the boxes must be useable for any participatory process that the government might run.
Indeed, the Catalan minister maintained that her government’s objective is to hold an independence referendum that has been negotiated with Madrid and complained that the Spanish government is “incapable of sitting down at the negotiating table”. On the same issue, she lamented the criticism of organisations that have signed up to the National Pact for the Referendum, an allusion to the attacks received by FC Barcelona.
"Democracy needs ballot boxes"
Despite not directly linking the ballot boxes with the referendum, Munté emphasised that the Catalan government is keeping its “unequivocal promise” of the vote planned for the end of September. "Democracy needs ballot boxes. This country needs and will need ballot boxes", she stated, adding that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Catalan government wants to purchase them.
Despite the pressure from the Spanish prosecutor and the possibility that the courts will block the government’s purchase of ballot boxes, when asked whether they have a plan B, Munté merely answered that “our plan A and plan B” are to hold the referendum.
As revealed by ARA, the procurement of ballot boxes has created tensions within the cabinet. In the end, the issue was resolved by making a purchase in two phases. The chosen model is the framework agreement, by which the Governance department will now choose which suppliers could fulfill the contract, but it will be up to the Cabinet – and, as such, the president and all the ministers– to authorise the purchase in writing when they deem it appropriate. In this way, the responsibility will be shared.